History and class consciousness, one hundred years later



Preface to the recently released book, organized by José Paulo Netto

Dialectic and reification

One hundred years later, History and class consciousness remains the most influential work of Marxist philosophy in history. The revolutionary passion present in the various essays that make up the book, written between 1919 and 1922, exerted a lasting fascination that does not leave the reader indifferent.

As a result of the impact of the Russian revolution and the expectation of its consequences in Europe, History and class consciousness it is a reckoning with reformism in politics and theory. Against the evolutionary perspective, which defended the peaceful path for the transition to socialism, the Russian revolution was a burning reality as it put the revolutionary perspective back on the agenda. Against the mechanistic determinism that guided the Second International, dialectics, the struggle of opposites, was called to the scene.

The critique of the linear view of history, of reformism and of mechanism, led to a surprising rediscovery of dialectics. The effort, at that time, consisted of highlighting the revolutionary character of the method and discarding the conservative system that surrounded it and hindered the subversive development of dialectics.

Hegel, until then treated like a “dead dog”, as Marx said in his time, was now rehabilitated in the name of the revolution. In revolutionary Russia in the 1920s there was a dispute over the meaning of dialectics. Among its defenders (the “dialecticians”), Deborin stood out and among the “mechanists”, LI Akselrod. At the same time, in Germany, Karl Korsch published Marxism and philosophy. In Italy, Gramsci, arrested in 1926, criticized Bukharin's non-dialectical thought and, at the same time, sought to differentiate himself from his former master, Croce, the greatest representative of Hegelianism in philosophy and liberalism in politics.

Revolution and dialectics, then, began to walk together. Lenin, in the text that became known as his Will, made a surprising criticism of Bukharin, the most beloved among the Bolsheviks. Despite highlighting his merits, Lenin considered him incapable of leading the Soviet State because “he never studied and I believe he never fully understood dialectics”. It is still significant, although very strange, that, in order to run the State, it was necessary to study and understand the dialectic...

Of all these attempts to bring Marx closer to Hegel, the most daring is History and class consciousness. In the 1974 afterword, Gyögy Lukács noted that the book was written “in the purest Hegelian spirit” because “its ultimate philosophical foundation is constituted by the identical subject-object realizing itself in the historical process. It is true that in Hegel himself the subject-object is born through a logical-philosophical route, reaching the absolute spirit, the supreme degree of philosophy, with the withdrawal of alienation [Entaeusserung], with the return to oneself of self-consciousness, thus realizing the identical subject-object. For History and class consciousness, on the contrary, this process must be social and historical, and culminates in the fact that the proletariat reaches this stage in its class consciousness by becoming the identical subject-object of history”.

The intended identity, which in Hegel would be realized in the distant moment of the Absolute Spirit, in György Lukács was an effective reality announced by the revolution of 1917. Subject-object unity, passage from the realm of necessity to freedom, end of alienation, realization of philosophy … This last point caught the attention of Leon Trotsky in 1928. Faced with the harsh reality and challenge of building socialism, he recalled in the text “The Philosophical Tendencies of Bureaucratism” that Gyögy Lukács “Dared to announce that, with At the beginning of the October revolution, which represented the leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom, historical materialism had ceased to exist and had ceased to respond to the needs of the era of proletarian revolution. Nevertheless, we laughed a lot with Lenin about this discovery, which, to put it mildly, was, at least, premature.”

The revolutionary's irony would soon be replaced by censorship. György Lukács was accused of being an idealist for considering nature a social category, of denying the theory of reflection, of deviating from orthodoxy in his criticism of Engels, of being a voluntarist, etc. As for dialectics, Stalin instituted the diamond in 1938 as an official doctrine: Hegel, then, came to be considered the theorist of the Restoration, therefore, a reactionary philosopher who had nothing to do with Marxism.

Suffering pressure from all sides, György Lukács reneged on the work in several protocol self-criticisms – a condition, according to him, for continuing to work in the communist movement. The attempt to defend the work of his critics generated the book Towing and dialectics, not published at the time, only appearing in 1996 in Hungary (the Boitempo edition is from 2015). The break with the ideas of History and class consciousness, however, only became effective in the 1930s, when Gyögy Lukács read the Economic-philosophical manuscripts by Marx. From then on, Lukács sought to free himself from Hegelian idealism and move towards an ontological and materialist conception.

In addition to the defense of dialectics, there is another concept in the book destined to make history in XNUMXth century social thought: “reification”, a concept also present in the book by Isaak Illitch Rubin, The Marxist Theory of Value.

Marx, in the chapter on commodity fetishism, The capital, when studying the economic transaction, had denounced the mystifying and dehumanizing character of capitalism. Gyögy Lukács took up the theme and expanded it to all spheres of social life, since, for him, the commercial relationship in capitalism was “the prototype of all forms of objectivity and subjectivity”. In this way, the relationships between base and superstructure began to be shaped by the process of reification – a novelty in Marx's interpretations, which would later guide the thinking of Theodor Adorno.

The theory of reification, in History and class consciousness, is connected with the process of rationalization, as developed by Lukács's former master, the sociologist Max Weber. This junction between reification and rationalization, between Marx and Weber, made History and class consciousness the milestone of a current of thought that Maurice Merleau-Ponty named “Weberian-Marxism”.

Drawing on Marx, Gyögy Lukács develops the thesis according to which the reifying capitalist mercantile relationship “penetrates ever more deeply into man's consciousness”. In addition to this invasion of human subjectivity, the process of rationalization – and here Gyögy Lukács follows Max Weber – also encompasses all social institutions: State, law, administration, bureaucracy, etc.

The approach of such different authors was greeted with enthusiasm by some scholars such as Michael Löwy, in the book the steel cage (Boitempo), which celebrates the “elective affinities” between them. It was also incorporated into Ricardo Musse's refined essay, reproduced in this volume, which accompanies passi passu the movement of reification and antinomies of bourgeois thought, interpreting History and class consciousness as a decisive moment in overcoming the impasses that paralyzed the development of modern philosophy.

Among the critics of Marx's “weberization”, we find, among others, a disciple of Gyögy Lukács, István Mészáros, who states that “the myth of rationality” would have “dulled Lukács's critical sense”, making itself present even in Ontology of the social being. Mészáros laments the fact that his former master never fully got rid of Weber's ghost.

Whatever the position taken, there is a decisive aspect to be highlighted: the combination of the two authors made it possible to move from the critique of political economy to the critique of culture. Many authors followed this shift, forming a current that came to be known as “Western Marxism”.

Lucien Goldmann, for example, took up the theory of reification-rationalization to base his sociology of culture. To this theoretical vein he added the ideas of the pre-Marxist Lukács contained in the books The soul and the form and romance theory.

Frankfurt theorists, led by Theodor Adorno, constructed a social theory, “critical theory”, to make a profound diagnosis of the Western world. Theodor Adorno produced brilliant texts on literary criticism, music, aesthetics and a relentless critique of the cultural industry. The link with the Hegelian tradition, however, coexists conflictingly in Theodor Adorno's work with the refusal of subject-object identity, of reconciliation. This is the foundation of Adorno's “negative dialectic”, a dialectic that rejects the unification of opposites, the appeasing synthesis. In recent decades, the Adornian legacy has been updated by Fredric Jameson in his research on postmodernism.

In the opposite direction, the opponents of Hegelian dialectics directed angry criticisms at Gyögy Lukács. All French structuralist thought turned against what they called the “logic of identity”. The Marxist representative of this current, Louis Althusser, embraced this criticism, originally focused on phenomenology and existentialism. Against the “logic of identity”, which according to phenomenology allowed the passage from experience to knowledge, Louis Althusser proposes the “epistemological cut”.

There would thus be no transit between experience and knowledge (“logic of identity”, “unity of the diverse”), but an epistemological rupture. Science does not reflect the real, the lived reality, it does not reproduce the object: on the contrary, the object starts to be constructed by the researcher. Having purged the Hegelian heritage embedded in Marx's work, Marxism should be transformed into a scientific discourse.

Another critical aspect of Hegelianism developed in Italy with Galvano Della Volpe and his disciples, Lucio Coletti, Mario Rossi and Mario Dal Pra. The reference here is not the appropriation of Hegel by existentialism, but the critique of the Italian historicist tradition represented mainly by Croce and Gramsci. In this, all knowledge is historical knowledge, since nature is not seen as a harsh otherness, but as a social category, as in History and class consciousness. The defense of scientific character and materialism turned against Hegelian historicism, humanism and the theory of alienation.

The Hegel-Marx link is emphatically denied and the former's “speculative dialectic”, which went from the abstract to the concrete to return to the abstract, is replaced by Marx's “scientific dialectic” exemplified by the “concrete-abstract-concrete” movement, such as plays Della Volpe in the 1857 “Introduction” to Critique of Political Economy. Marx, as he states, owes nothing to Hegel and his dialectics, as he followed the scientific method inaugurated by Aristotle and Galileo, based on the principle of non-contradiction that guides experimental sciences.

In the most diverse ways possible, History and class consciousness led the intellectual debate of the XNUMXth century and continues to challenge social thought in the new century.

A book of this strength deserves to be celebrated. José Paulo Netto's competence and erudition was able to collect relevant texts on History and class consciousness. The very different analyzes of Lucien Goldmann, Michael Löwy, Nicolas Tertulian, Slavoj Zizek, Marcos Nobre, Koenraad Geldof, Mauro Iasi, Eduardo Sartelli, Antonino Infranca, Henrique Wellen, Guido Oldrini and Ricardo Musse were brought together to offer a complete overview of a book century that continues to challenge the intelligence of its readers.

*Celso Frederico is a retired senior professor at ECA-USP. Author, among other books, of Essays on Marxism and Culture (Morula). [https://amzn.to/3rR8n82]


José Paulo Netto (org.). History and class consciousness, one hundred years later. São Paulo, Boitempo, 344 pages. [https://amzn.to/3PZuilo]

On the topic, Editora Boitempo organizes the cycle of debates The Current Affairs of György Lukács, which takes place between the 17th and 20th of October, in the Auditorium of the Casa de Cultura Japonesa (Av. Prof. Lineu Prestes, 159 – Butantã), with the participation of more than twenty researchers, including José Paulo Netto, Ester Vaisman, Miguel Vedda, Arlenice Almeida, Ricardo Antunes and Vladimir Safatle. Click here to find out the complete program.

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