Essential are the unwritten books

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By RONALDO VIELMI FORTES & ALEXANDRE ARANHA ARBIA*

Presentation of the book that gathers interviews by György Lukács between 1966 and 1971

The set of interviews gathered in this collection constitutes a considerable part of the statements given by the Hungarian Marxist thinker György Lukács in the period from 1966 to 1971. and culture, among others. We can follow, in this context, a Lukács focused on two main tasks: concluding his work on the ontology of the social being, essential, in his assessment, for a renewal of Marxism and, concomitantly, demonstrating how Marxist thought can interpret and offer solutions to contemporary problems.

In the period in which these interviews were granted, the first volume (of the three originally planned) of Die Eigenart des Ästhetischen [The peculiarity of the aesthetic] was already published and the plan to write an ethics had already been superseded by the primacy of writing the ontology of social being. The entire movement of the author's thought in the 1960s demonstrates a broad effort to establish safe and rigorous theoretical bases, capable of providing precise guidelines for the political, cultural and social practice of his time. The insertion in the debate of the ontology of the social being and the persistence in carrying out the critique of contemporary sociability, both considered socialist and capitalist, were not the result of inclinations and interests limited to the personal sphere, they took into account the need to transform reality in the face of to the great dilemmas that arose in his day, something that could only be effective through rigorous reflection on the genesis and development processes of the social being.

The testimonies given by the thinker in the period demonstrate the direct relationship between his political positions and his theoretical works. The author's political practice and philosophical reflections have in common the prerogative of “returning to Marx”, a necessary means, according to him, to reach real alternatives for overcoming the great contradictions of his time. Lukács is convinced of the need to resume Marxian thought in its original traits – lost by Marxists throughout the XNUMXth century –, he insists in his elaborations on the sufficiency of Marxian reflections for the production of comprehensive knowledge, capable of mirroring, on the level of ideal, reality, more faithfully possible, through the rigorous apprehension of social dynamics in its multiple constitutive complexes.

It is worth insisting: the field of theory, for Lukács, finds itself in an ineliminable articulation with political activity. There is no way to separate both. As he states in his autobiographical interviews, “movement is always useful at work, because then trends are delineated more clearly and it is clear what people want”. In this sense, the role of the ideologist in the construction of rigorous scientific knowledge is also a form of militancy. This conviction of the role of the thinker in determining the most fundamental principles and elements of the revolutionary struggle is consistent with Marx's proposition according to which "the weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace the criticism of the weapon, material power has to be overthrown". by material power, but theory also becomes a material force when it takes hold of the masses.

Fighting in the field where he could best contribute – that of ideology –, the Hungarian Marxist had to “move between lights and shadows” to expose his oppositions, from a Marxist point of view, in the great philosophical battle of the period. For our author, it is a question of restoring to Marxism the dignity of a philosophy of great importance, of demonstrating in Marx's thought the point of arrival of philosophy as a moment of decisive inflection of the great philosophical questions of humanity.

This intention causes his work to end up being limited to two fundamental fronts: the critique of distorting interpretations of Marx's thought and the critique of the predominant theories in Western thought throughout the XNUMXth century.

With regard to the first of these combat fronts, we can say that the most substantive part of the difficulties faced by Marxism in the field of thought is due to the way in which it was mutilated and propagated by Stalinism. The central problem of Stalinism is, according to Lukács, the tacticism: the submission of the “idea of ​​strategy to tactics and […] the general prospects of socialism to strategy” (see, in this volume, p. 60). In such a way of proceeding, theory is always elaborated at the service of political tactics, thus abandoning the fundamental principle of understanding reality as a crucial element for the elaboration of strategy.

It was therefore inevitable that the influence of Stalinism led to the theoretical falsification and vulgarization and impoverishment of Marxism. In this living “combat” one of the main positions of internal confrontation is concentrated, that is, of self-criticism by Marxists as a way of overcoming the crisis of socialism. The vulgarizations of Marx's thought, which took place throughout the 1960th century and which developed even more sharply in the late 1970s and early XNUMXs, populated the spectrum of Marxist production, not only in the East, but also in Western Marxist production. For the Magyar Marxist, if Stalin had been defeated, Stalinism, on the contrary, maintained itself with great vigour. The problem for Lukács was never just the figure of Stalin; his denunciation always highlighted Stalinism as a social phenomenon of worldwide proportions, whose influences and principles are easily perceptible in the programmatic contents of the communist political parties of his time.

Lukács' certainty about the sufficiency of Marx's thought puts him in direct opposition to attempts to “complement” or “remedy gaps” in Marxism by importing solutions alien to his methodological universe. To a large extent, it is about questioning the tragic destiny of Marx's thought that extends from the twentieth century to our days. His works are combat texts that refute conciliatory attempts, arrangements, remodeling and revisionisms of the most diverse shades, from the positivist, Kantian (Adler) to the structuralist version. His critical elements corroborate in a decisive way for the later developments of Marxist thought.

Lukács' critical notes also extend to the consideration of the main trends and currents of thought prevalent in his time – which constitutes what we designate here as the second of his critical combats.

Dealing with the philosophical currents of Western thought, Lukács will frankly oppose “bourgeois” philosophies, demonstrating that the positions defended in Die Zerstörung der Vernunft [The destruction of reason] remains in the background of their intellectual elaborations. As far as his philosophical position is concerned, we can say that Lukács' concerns with ontological issues did not cool down his intransigent critique of irrationalism, as formulated in the 1940s and 1950s.

Against Nietzsche, Lukács maintains the assessment of the 1950s, a time when he classified the German philosopher as the “founder of the irrationalism of the imperialist period” and did not hesitate to identify him as the antipode of the elaborations of Marx and Engels. Lukács does not deepen the considerations regarding irrationalism, but we perceive that the evaluation of Nietzsche's thought as an expression of bourgeois (ideological) decadence in the inauguration of the imperialist phase (in its pessimism, relativism, self-complacent nihilism and a state of hopelessness and rebellion) keeps.

In other words, the hardness with which Lukács rejects Nietzsche not only keeps an enormous gap open between Marxist thought and the positions of the German philosopher (we see throughout the interviews that, for him, it seems incredible that any serious Marxist can glimpse, in the philosophy of Nietzsche, something capable of complementing gaps in Marxist thought), but also rejects, together, any possibility of conciliation between Marxism and the philosophical currents that are affiliated to said bias. This is the spirit that guides him, for example, in his topical allusions to structuralism in the interviews: even though it cannot “solve the situation of Marxism” (p. 129), structuralism appears, alongside many other alternatives, as a solution “mistaken” in the attempt to give Marxism a form “adequate to modern times” (p. 48).

With regard to Heidegger, Lukács not only recalls that the German existentialist collaborated with Nazism (p. 30), but, beyond this common criticism, which he also echoes, his clash is established throughout his works (from The destruction of reason, through Existentialism or Marxism?, by The peculiarity of the aesthetic and later in For an ontology of social being), in terms of the opposition between ontologies; perhaps, here, we have one of the most decisive contributions of Lukács to the philosophy of the 62th century. The Magyar Marxist makes a point of rejecting existentialism as a possibility to complement Marxism and denounces its search, for example, by Hungarian youth (p. XNUMX), as a symptom of the disillusionment provoked by the lack of answers to the burning problems of the time on the part of the dogmatic Marxism. Here, once again, existentialism appears as an expression of individual despair in the face of bourgeois decay in a mature phase of imperialism – in other words, a doubled expression of irrationalism.

If, on the one hand, it is necessary to reject the predominance of the thought of authors such as Nietzsche and Heidegger, on the other hand, their position does not constitute an intransigence regarding accepting contributions from certain currents of thought in the West. You have to know how to assimilate them. There are important and contributory elements in the thinking of authors such as Sartre, Nicolai Hartmann, Gordon Childe, Werner Jaeger, Arnold Gehlen, etc. The new situations of his time pose completely unusual questions, new social phenomena (mass movements, new figures in the capitalist production process, etc.) that cannot be resolved with a simple appeal to the writings of Marx, Engels or Lenin.

The conviction that the line that runs from Marx and Engels to Lenin holds, for Lukács, the best that has been produced with regard to the great analyzes of the concrete problems of society does not, therefore, mean a dogmatic position in relation to the classics of the Marxism. “It is necessary to write The capital of our times”, Lukács will say several times. The insistence is justified because, for him, important transformations occurred in capitalism in the XNUMXth century, and Marx's elaborations, made in the XNUMXth century, for obvious reasons, cannot consider a wide range of important questions and contradictions that arose after his death.

In Marx we find a science of rigor, capable of adequately carrying out the analysis of these transformations. The most general tendential elements of the legality of the societal order of capital are present in his work, however the unfolding of capitalism produced new figures of economic and social processes that need to be understood in their own concreteness and in their new particularity. Otherwise, insists our thinker, we will continue trying to approach with old concepts and old categories the peculiarities that appear in the corporate formation of the current capitalism.

An example of this analytical poverty could be identified in the struggle for the simple reduction of the working day, as Marx recorded in nineteenth-century capitalism. In XNUMXth century capitalism, for Lukács, claims for a reduction in the working day and an increase in time do not seem to be enough to face the problem of new forms of estrangement. The capitalism of his day has as a fundamental characteristic the predominance of relative surplus value over absolute surplus value. This means more free time for the worker.

However, although the working and consumption conditions of workers in central countries have improved in relation to the previous century, this improvement does not mean, however, a disappearance of the conditions of exploitation and estrangement. If before the worker was taken in his day by the working day, in which he was expropriated of the value he produced, now he starts to serve the order of capital also in his leisure hours, in which he starts to play the role of consumer . The consumer society, which appropriates human individuations in a more effective and profound way, creates more intense manipulation strategies capable of creating forms of individuation favorable to the maintenance and perpetuation of the status quo.

The interviews gathered in this volume provide an important testimony, they provide full proof that several protest movements against the system that occurred throughout the 1960s did not go unnoticed by Lukács. As we have already highlighted, social movements are, for him, “always useful for intellectual work”. In this regard, we can cite his considerations about the decisive women's revolt movement – ​​particularly in the United States –, which opposes exploitation and social oppression; the black movement, which effectively denounced all the segregation suffered in the broader spheres of social life; the combative movement of students in Europe – the French 68, the student movement in Germany, in Italy –; or even the movement for the liberation of peoples, mainly those that took place in the former colonies of Africa. We can also add the strong concern with the issue of coexistence between socialist countries and capitalist countries, motivated by the strong crises of the Cold War – just think of the nuclear missile crisis in Cuba, in 1962.

These concerns are evident in his interviews and are directly reflected in his works. In your Ontology – particularly in the last chapter of the voluminous book, “O estrangement” –, the author deals with important details of these new forms of estrangement, without neglecting the necessary criticism of the insufficient forms that these revolts and contestations sometimes assume in their practical struggle for social transformation .

On the political level, another important critical element marks Lukács' thinking in this period. In Demokratisierung heute und morgan (Democratization Today and Tomorrow), work published posthumously, the author makes relevant notes on the basic principles to be adopted as a primary strategy for the decisive transformation of sociability. From one pole to the other, “socialist democracy” – for him, authentic democracy – appears as the alternative to the real trends of forms of power in the so-called “socialist” East and in the capitalist West.

Remaining extremely critical of the political forms of the West (which, according to Marx, are based on the split between the bourgeois man and the citoyen), Lukács is clear about the “non-democratic character of manipulated democracy”, carried out in Western societies. The idea of ​​“manipulated democracy”, for him, crosses the political and economic system, passing through the restriction of freedom in production. Please understand, in the spirit of Ontology, Lukács does not defend an “unlimited” freedom (something that would be nothing more than a mere arbitrary abstraction), but the freedom to make choices between concrete alternatives. Freedom and democracy, therefore, for Lukács, are realistically integrated, as the possibility of making autonomous choices, according to generic needs, making conscious decisions about real alternatives. Overcoming Stalinism, with regard to the resumption of the council system as an initial step, is precisely the perspective of establishing a real democracy, far from the manipulated democracy (and freedom) of capitalist countries.

And with regard to the resumption of council democracy, Lukács makes explicit identical positions to those he had pronounced in Democratization Today and Tomorrow. He takes up the spirit of the idea of ​​socialist democracy as “an organ of man's self-education (in the universal-historical perspective, that is, of self-education to effectively be a man in Marx's sense)”; in other words, the reunification between bourgeois e citoyen, produced by socialist democracy – and the resumption of council democracy, on which, in his perception, the success of economic reforms in Hungary depended – would enable the reunification of decisions about the destinies of society, in everyday life: “under socialism [ …], the citizen must be a man focused on the material realization of his own sociability in everyday life, in collective cooperation with other men, from immediate day-to-day problems to the most general issues of the State”.

With regard to the interviews given during the period, it is necessary to consider a certain formality in the way he spoke and in the exposition of his thoughts. It is likely that all this formality was intended to fulfill the political role of the ideologue who fought and bet on the possibility of rescuing the authentic guidelines of socialism. In them, we see in Lukács the concern to always speak out in order to glimpse, in the face of all the adversities existing in the countries of the East, possibilities of redirection and resumption of revolutionary principles.

Such a fundamentally strategic-political position of the Hungarian thinker cannot be confused with a naive adherence to the conservative and dogmatic guidelines of the Party, whether Hungarian or Soviet. There is absolutely no interest in contributing to the improvement of the Stalinist bureaucracy. We believe that it should be understood, above all, as the hope of rescuing the correct paths initially set by Lenin in the preparatory process of building an authentically communist society.

His gamble was not driven by illusions. In this regard, why not recall here the testimony collected by István Eörsi, in which Lukács, in a private conversation, explained his hopelessness in relation to the achievements of the so-called socialist countries: “it seems that the whole experiment started in 1917 failed, and everything it has to be started again somewhere else.” This observation was not intended for the public, as Eörsi himself points out, however, given its relevance, it could not be ignored. This personal conviction, not publicly declared, is consistent with the expository strategy of their testimonies, which underlies, as a leitmotiv, the emphasis on the need to “return to Marx”.

Through this return, in a polite way, but rigorous and severe in its foundations, the criticism of the directives of the countries of the East, of their programmatic infeasibility, appears in a clear way. There are no concessions, no conciliations, his reflections inevitably lead to the uncomfortable confrontation of the theoretical bases of Marxian thought with the directions of the States of Eastern Europe. The attentive reader will be able to observe this content of his pronouncements in practically all the interviews present in this book.

Some can see a certain oscillation in certain positions of Lukács, such as, for example, the persistence in remaining a member of the Communist Party, even after the events of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. He always insisted on being a member of the Party, something that , in a way, is justified by his option of carrying out the criticism from “inside”, judging it more effective than the position of refuting directives from outside the party organization. This same option is affirmed regarding his decision to remain in Hungary after 1956, on the grounds that “criticism is more genuine and, therefore, more effective when led on socialist soil” (p. 161), even if such a decision implies to endanger his own life. Lukács thus rejects the condition of “system oppositionist”, assuming the condition of “reformer of Marxism to be renewed” (idem). In short, for him, criticism is “morally better founded if it is carried out in one's own country” (idem).

Still in this sense, his statement according to which “even the worst socialism is better than the best capitalism” cannot fail to cause controversy. Such an assertion is by no means an unconditional support for the ills and follies of the countries of the East. The contrast that Lukács seeks to highlight through this deliberately impactful phrase is that of opposition to the already vigorous trends in his time of the imposition of the American way of life, whose figure can be defined in its most general lines as the commodification of all aspects of human life.

It is at this point that culture, the arts gain prominence in their role of reformulating and transforming the systems in force. The example seems simple, but it is, for the author, full of meanings. The free access to the arts and the reduced price of editions of classic works of literature, for example, provide conditions and opportunities for individuals to form themselves through contact with the great productions of humanity - in the field of literature, music, visual arts, etc. The venal character of culture is the deviation from its effective role in the spiritual framework of the process of human emancipation.

Underlying this whole argument is the fruitful idea of ​​art and culture as human building elements. The role of art is to remove the individual from his particularity, raising him to the level of the great questions of mankind in the course of his history of self-production. Art appears in its unfetishizing and disengaging function, it plays a decisive role in building and elevating subjectivities, making them able to understand the great challenges and human issues of a given period and thus creating favorable conditions for the advent of the subjective factor necessary for the undertaking of great social transformations.

It is no coincidence that we see the range of topics addressed by Lukács in his works and in his interviews expanding to seemingly disparate subjects, ranging from political and philosophical topics, from literary criticism to the cultural policies of his time. The common denominator is, in fact, the interest in the emancipation of individualities, in the transformation of the form of human sociability, in its most diverse shades.

There is a very peculiar trait in the writings that Lukács wrote throughout his life. His works are always transitional works. From the young idealist concerned with ethical issues – The soul and the forms - passing through History and class consciousness (his most famous work), until the elaboration of his aesthetics and his ontology of the social being, what is verified is the tortuous course of the construction of his thought. Constant self-criticism is the most striking feature of his productions. Even though books such as those cited here have given him international prominence, Lukács does not hesitate for a moment in rejecting such works when he perceives serious mistakes in them. He writes prefaces with stern and consistent criticism of the reissues.

Satisfaction with his writings was short-lived, since the movement for the search for authentic determinations always pushed forward, as a way of getting closer and closer to the effective determinations of social reality. This impetus leads him to assert bluntly that essential are the unwritten books. This consideration marks Lukács' intellectual course, which is why we chose to title the set of these interviews with this lapidary phrase from the Magyar thinker. Of greater relevance were the works that were yet to be written. The octogenarian thinker remained active until the last moments, a fact that can be seen in his final efforts in the elaboration of his ontology and even in the testimonies given in the final period of his life.

The importance, for our days, of the set of testimonies given by the author consists of its ability to explain problems and burning issues of his time that, to a large extent, remain central themes even today. The rigorous and persistent criticism of the two political forms of his time does not cease to inspire, in our days, nonconformity with the prevailing sociability, poses again the challenge, more than ever necessary to be faced, of the being and destiny of the human being.

His work, his thought, is inscribed, in this sense, in the decisive challenge already put up for discussion by the philosophical tradition (which goes back to a trajectory that goes from Descartes, passing through Rousseau, to Hegel): if the human being is a self-produced being, it must assume the reins of its own existence and define its own destiny. This is the ethical challenge present in the lyrics of Lukács's work.

It is not the case here to make an uncritical defense of the life and ideas of the Hungarian thinker. Such a posture does not even match the spirit and teachings of Lukács, for whom the best way to show respect to a thinker is to carry out a serious and rigorous critique of his ideas. However, the thought and the course of life of this thinker are of immense richness and complexity.

He is a notable personality, either because of the experiences he lived in the troubled and violent XNUMXth century, or because of the diversity and fruitfulness of his thought. For the understanding of the great current dilemmas of capitalist sociability, for the perspective of an authentically emancipatory future of humanity, we can affirm, without any fear, that Lukács' thought is unavoidable.

*Ronaldo Vielmi Fortes is a professor at the Faculty of Social Work at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora.

*Alexandre Aranha Arbia He holds a PhD in Social Work from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

 

Reference


György Lukács. Essential are the unwritten books. Organization, translation, notes and presentation Ronaldo Vielmi Fortes. Technical review and presentation Alexandre Aranha Arbia. Sao Paulo, Boitempo, 2020.

 

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