Georg Lukács’ Philosophy of Praxis
Issue 157, April 2020
Guest editor: Daniel Andrés López
The lead piece consists of an original translation of Ernst Bloch’s 1923 review of History and Class Consciousness (HCC) by Cat Moir, of Sydney University, as well as an introduction situating the text within its times and the thought worlds of these two philosophers. This text, never before available in English, was one of the earliest responses to HCC. It constitutes a remarkable, simultaneously critical and sympathetic assessment of Lukács’s position by his one-time friend and one of the most original minds in radical 20th Century philosophy, Bloch.
Konstantinos Kavoulakos (University of Crete) and Richard Westerman (University of Alberta) have both published major monographs on Lukács’s most revolutionary period, respectively, Lukács’s Philosophy of Praxis (Bloomsbury, 2018) and Lukács’s Phenomenology of Capitalism (Springer, 2018). Here, they continue and extend their contribution, drawing attention to the neo-Kantian backdrop to Lukács’s thought in order to illuminate his concept of reification and his method of criticism, respectively. They are aided by Robert P. Jackson (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Nikos Foufas (Panteion University), who contribute review essays examining Kavoulakos’ and Westerman’s major works on Lukács.
This edition also brings together a number of original and at times critical perspectives on Lukács’s philosophy of praxis. Aaron Jaffe (The Juilliard School) proposes a creative strategy for resolving the abstraction and singularity that seem to characterise Lukács’ 1920s position, and in so doing he liberates resources for a more pluralistic radical-democratic political philosophy. Finally, Michael Lazarus (Monash University), Toula Nicolacopoulos and George Vassilacopoulos (La Trobe University) and Daniel Andrés López (La Trobe University) propose, in often divergent ways, speculative, Hegelian readings of Lukács. Lazarus does so via Gillian Rose and Marx himself, foregrounding Lukács’ (and Rose’s) failure to develop on Marx’s political economy. Nicolacopoulos and Vassilacopoulos argue that Lukács’s philosophy must go deeper than the commodity in order to sustain the radical critique of capitalism he aspired to. And lastly, López, author of the recently published Lukács: Praxis and the Absolute (Brill, 2019) proposes an immanent reconstruction and critique of Lukács’s famous essay on the “Antinomies of Bourgeois Philosophy.”
Together, this special edition of Thesis Eleven constitutes a significant intervention into the scholarly discourse around Georg Lukács’s 1920s body of work. It will prove to be a touchstone for debates and discussions for years to come.
This article consists of an original translation of Ernst Bloch’s 1923 review of Lukács History and Class Consciousness, preceded by a translator’s introduction contextualising Bloch’s review and interpreting what it tells us about the intellectual and personal relationship between Bloch and Lukács. I argue that Bloch’s review highlights some of the key differences and points of intersection between their thinking. Written when their personal relationship had already soured for both political and intellectual reasons, Bloch’s review makes clear his ongoing commitment to a form of utopianism Lukács had long abandoned. Unlike Lukács, who in History and Class Consciousness argued that the dialectical method could only be applied to the social realm, Bloch followed Engels in developing a dialectics of nature. However, even if Bloch was less willing to become involved in party politics than his erstwhile friend, as the review reveals, both men ultimately emphasised the present moment as the privileged locus of urgent political action.
This article examines different intellectual-historical approaches to the work of Georg Lukács, arguing that a methodology similar to that of the Cambridge School is, curiously, that most in line with Lukács’s own approach. I begin with some general methodological comments on intellectual history, before showing that a proper appreciation of the discourses within which Lukács was situated is essential to understanding both the specifics and the overall project of History and Class Consciousness. Finally, I argue that situating thinkers like Lukács properly within their time does not reduce them to museum pieces; rather, by seeking to capture the alterity of the past without reducing it to familiarity, we may de-reify our own world-views.
After the initial formulation of the concept of reification in Georg Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness (HCC, 1923), a series of confusing uses of it within critical theory have contributed to blurring its contours. In his pre-Marxist work, while analyzing the social rationalization process, Lukács located the modern form of mediation between subject and object and connected it with certain effects on the level of human consciousness and behavior. This very scheme is repeated and refined in HCC. In the Reification essay, Lukács uses the neo-Kantian concept of the “form of objectivity” to grasp the central constitutive form of all kinds of objects in bourgeois society. He interprets Marx’s commodity form as the “archetype” of all capitalist objectivity, which consists in converting qualitative contents into quantitative categories. Thus, the formal/calculative rationality of exchange penetrates all kinds of objectification in modern society. In Lukács’s view, only in its modern, universalized form does rational objectification bring about the phenomenon of reification, i.e. the de-historicization and political neutralization of the social relations that constitute the social system and the dominant forms of consciousness. This systemic, cultural, and political understanding of reification can prove to be fruitful in the context of contemporary discussions on democratic transformative praxis.
Lukács’ antinomic ‘standpoint of the proletariat’: From philosophical to socio-historical determination
In History and Class Consciousness’ central essay ‘Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat’, Lukács resolved the antinomies of bourgeois philosophy in the revolutionary ‘standpoint of the proletariat’. Lukács’ strategy in deriving this proletarian standpoint, however, transposed the logical necessity appropriate to philosophical determinations into possibilities for revolutionary praxis imbedded in socio-historical contexts. Further, since the standpoint is determined as the necessary solution to bourgeois antinomies, it must be conceived singularly, rather than through its manifest diversity. As the key to mediating the social totality beyond antinomies, the ‘standpoint of the proletariat’ is therefore merely reflectively posited and one-sidedly determined. While many have developed logical, social-analytic, and political problems associated with determining the proletariat by way of its imputed or party-determined rather than empirical consciousness, few point to the very concept ‘standpoint of the proletariat’ as the source for these problems due to the fact that it is an abstractly derived solution to a philosophically posed problem. Socio-historical determination working with the modality of possibility can resolve Lukács’ antinomic determination of the standpoint of the proletariat.
This article examines the relationship between Marx’s Capital, Georg Lukács and Critical Theory through the prism of value-form theory. Marx’s theorisation of value understands commodities as expressions of the historical form of social relations defined by capital. Products of human labour become values in capitalist production, defined by the abstract quality of undifferentiated quantities of labour-power, exchangeable through the universal character of the market. The social form of this process, Marx identifies as processing a fetish quality, where humans take on the thing-like character of commodities. The impact of this theorisation on Critical Theory has been considerable, beginning with Lukács’ concept of reification. In Part I, I examine the challenge to Lukács’ interpretation of Marx’s Capital made by Gillian Rose. She draws attention to a misidentification of reification in Marx, suggesting a strong conceptual distinction between commodity-fetishism and reification. In their conceptual flattening, Rose contends that Lukács and Critical Theory generalised Marx’s value-form theory, losing its speculative character. I argue that despite Rose’s suggestion remaining unfulfilled, she helps illuminate important tensions between Marx’s value theory and Critical Theory. This comparison allows in Part II for the beginning level of a speculative approach to Marx’s Capital to be advanced.
Toula Nicolacopoulos, George Vassilacopoulos
In ‘Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat’, Lukács analyses the commodity-structure as ‘the universal category’ that frames society as a whole. Taking seriously the aspiration to follow Marx in going ‘to the root of the matter’, Lukács examines the ways and extent to which the commodity structure extends into and remoulds society, focusing on living individuals, their needs and relations to things as use values. We propose a reading drawing on the idea of concern-in-indifference, which addresses the complexity of the practice of owning that underpins Lukács’s analysis. We argue that attention to this complexity enables us to shine a light on the commodity structure’s capacity to conceal, directing us away from Lukács’s focus to an appreciation of the significance of the universal category’s power to deny a future ethical substantiality of togetherness while giving rise to singular beings for whom this substantiality remains an orienting vision.
Daniel Andrés López
I reconstruct Lukács’s immanent critique of German Idealism, found within his essay ‘Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat’ (in History and Class Consciousness), in order to foreground his philosophical reflection on the concepts of mediation, logic, genesis and praxis. I situate this reflection within his philosophy of praxis as a whole before highlighting the dialectical development of these terms within it. They are posited initially as abstract, methodological demands and are subsequently concretised and enriched, via Lukács’s critical evaluation of the antinomies he discovers in Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. My reconstruction is both exegetical and critical. I demonstrate that Lukács’s concept of praxis (as the culmination of mediation, logic and genesis) is explicitly intended to both bear the weight of Hegel’s Absolute and overcome it. On this basis, I propose a novel immanent critique of Lukács’s philosophy of praxis, suggesting that while Lukács wishes his concept of praxis to express a living, present and ontologically novel truth, his insight is won – in the fashion of Hegelian philosophy – after the historical event upon which it is built, as a philosophical reflection. Lukács’s self-contradiction is that while he regards his philosophy of praxis as having overcome speculative, Hegelian philosophy, in fact, the position he generates remains firmly but unconsciously within it. Consequently, Lukács’s philosophy of praxis possesses a theological dimension and must be regarded as an example of the kind of ‘conceptual mythology’ he sought to overcome.
One step back, two steps forward: Neo-Kantianism and Lukács’s transformative praxis
Robert P. Jackson
Book review essay:
Lukács’s Phenomenology of Capitalism: Reification Revalued