“Hungary is removing statue of philosopher György (Georg) Lukács: He was Marxist and Jewish,” so read a headline in the Hungarian Free Press, with an opening note that this is something one would expect from “Nazi Germany in the 1930s but not Budapest in 2017.
Hegelian Marxism and with it the whole tradition of Eastern Europe’s critical (humanist, revisionist etc.) Marxism are under attack. I first read Georg (György) Lukács when I was 18. I knew from family that he was a celebrated thinker and had served as minister of culture in Imre Nagy’s government, before the Soviet tanks crushed the Hungarian revolution. The book I read was a collection of his writings on literature and art translated into Romanian, with a foreword by N. Tertulian. As a college student, I read “History and Consciousness” in the “special fund” of the Central University Library. To do it, I needed a recommendation from a professor, the book was considered seditious. At a certain moment, Lukács was regarded as the great hope of neo-Kantian philosophy. His conversion to Marxism resulted in the writing of “Geschichte and Klassenbewusssein, published in 1923, immediately attacked by the Comintern’s chairman, the vainglorious Grigory Zinoviev and anathematized for decades. It is, arguably, one of the most significantly influential works in the field of philosophical Marxism ever written since “The German Ideology” and “The 1844 Manuscripts.” As Kostas Axelos once put it, it was “le livre maudit du marxisme.” Then, I read “The Soul and the Forms,” “The Theory of the Novel,” and many other works.
One of my first articles published in the Romanian “Revista de filosofie” did focus on him, as an exponent, together with Gramsci, Karl Korsch, and the Frankfurt School, of the ostensibly ignored and often maligned Western Marxism. Then I read Leszek Kolakowski’s scathing critique in his masterpiece Main Currents of Marxism, I had long conversations about the Budapest School with Lukács’s disciples Ágnes Heller, Ferenc Fehér, György Márkus, and Mihály Vajda. Brilliant, uneven and often exasperating, Lukács’s contributions to what Alvin Gouldner once called “the other Marxism” cannot and ought not to be dismissed. The xenophobic troglodytes in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary are waging a disgraceful war against cultural memory and intellectual integrity.
“Critical Marxism and Eastern Europe” was the title of my first English-language article. It came out in the journal “Praxis International” in October 1983. Richard J. Bernstein, then a Haverford College professor, now at the New School, and then the journal’s co-editor, invited me to write it. The conclusion: “Against the Machiavellian bureaucrats, viscerally attached to their dull prejudices and obtuse dogmas, the critical Marxists will have either to go toward an all-embracing, general criticism of Soviet-type despotic societies, a position resulting in the radical rejection of their alleged ‘socialist’ and ‘democratic’ potentialities, or to persevere in their generously humanist discourse, being eventually integrated in the manipulative technology of the system.” To their credit, the members of the Budapest School moved towards liberal democratic ideas and values. This is the reason why such thinkers (Kolakowski, Bauman, Pomian, Baczko, Kosik, Heller, Feher, Tadic et. al.) have been hated by Leninists and Fascists alike, forever attached to their dull prejudices and obtuse dogmas.
Let me conclude this quick response to the escalating repression in Hungary by quoting Michael Kennedy’s words: “I remember reading Lukacs during graduate school with Craig Calhoun ‘s guidance (I even took it with me while I was doing jury duty in Chapel Hill). It is critical to remember that while some are now celebrating the relevance of philosophy to the world there are others who attempt to throttle it.”