György Lukács Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)
0111206371-Lukacs.jpg (National Archives) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Lukács is one of the most outstanding and respected Marxist philosophers and literary critics from Eastern Europe in the twentieth century.

Early Life

György (also known as Georg) Lukács was born in Budapest in 1885, the son of a wealthy Jewish banker. He became interested in the theories of Karl Marx while attending school. He also had an interest in drama and helped to found the Thalia Theater in his native city. In 1906, he received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Budapest. Later, before World War I, he continued his philosophical studies at the Universities of Berlin and Heidelberg. He became a serious Marxist around 1908 while in Germany. When he returned to Budapest, he joined the Social Democratic Party and fell under the influence of Ervin Szabo, the leader of the party’s radical wing. At that stage of his life, Lukács was interested in the sociological theories of Marx. Before the war, he was also influenced by the works of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Georg Simmel, Max Weber, Søren Kierkegaard, and Georges Sorel. Besides Szabo, among Marxists, Rosa Luxemburg had an important effect on him. World War I and the Russian Revolution made a great impression on him, and his hatred of the capitalist system became even stronger. In 1918, he joined the Hungarian Communist Party and in 1919 was the minister for cultural affairs in the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic established by Béla Kun. When the republic collapsed, he was arrested but soon released.

Life’s Work

Lukács is best known not as a political figure but as a cultural philosopher. He is one of the few, and certainly the best known, of twentieth century Marxist philosophers from Eastern Europe who have been accepted by the political authorities in the Socialist world (although with some reservations) and at the same time have earned the respect of their colleagues in the West. His earliest pre-World War I works were chiefly on literary aesthetics, including Die Seele und die Formen (Soul and Form, 1974), published in 1911—his first major work and still regarded as one of his best. In this work, he presented many ideas that he developed later in his life as a Marxist—the universality of experience and the role of the critic, for example. A drama, he wrote, is a play about man and fate—a play in which God is the spectator. In 1911, he wrote A modern dráma fejlödésének története (the history of the development of modern drama), and immediately after the fall of the Kun government he published Die Theorie des Romans: Ein geschichtsphilosophischer Versuch über die Formen der grossen Epik (1920; The Theory of the Novel: A Historico-Philosophical Essay on the Forms of Great Epic Literature, 1971).

After the failure of the Marxist Revolution in Hungary, he was forced to live in exile. He went to Vienna, where he remained until 1929 editing the journal Kommunismus (communism). Lukács was not immune to attack from both the left and right wings of the socialist camp, but he still managed to produce valuable philosophical literature and continue participating in the international Marxist debates of the day. While in Vienna, he engaged in political debate with Kun, who sided with the extreme Left in the Communist International. Out of this came Lukács’ Geschichte und Klassenbewusstein: Studien über marxistische Dialektic (1923; History and Class Consciousness: Studies on the Marxist Dialectic, 1971), in which he first developed his own theories of dialectical historicism building on Marxism. He also began to examine the relationships between culture and class in historical development.

In History and Class Consciousness, he was heavily influenced by the struggle of the labor faction in the Soviet Party, which had brought its dispute against Vladimir Ilich Lenin and Leon Trotsky to the Communist International. Lukács believed that the greatest contribution of this work was the refutation of those philosophers who saw Marxism exclusively as a theory of society and not of nature, while he himself maintained that nature is a category of society. This deviation is most evident in economics, which he addresses in this treatise. In the new preface to History and Class Consciousness in the 1968 edition, he wrote that he specifically rejected the ideas of both Anatoly V. Lunacharsky, Lenin’s Bolshevik ally, and the Austrian Marxist Max Adlar, whom he regarded as Kantian in philosophy and a revisionist Social Democrat in politics. The difference between bourgeois and socialist outlooks, Lukács believed, is in the materialist view of nature, and “the failure to grasp this blurs philosophical debate and prevents the clear elaboration of the Marxist concept of praxis.”

In 1923, Lukács wrote and published an examination of Lenin’s theory and practice entitled Lenin: Studie über den Zusammenhang seiner Gedanken (Lenin: A Study of the Unity of His Thought, 1971). As an admirer of Lenin, Lukács wished to show how the Soviet leader was able to put his revolutionary theories into practice. In a 1967 edition, he wrote that he was attempting to find the spiritual center of Lenin’s personality, to find the objective and subjective forces that made Lenin’s action possible. Lukács saw Lenin as a counteraction against the dogmatism that was manifested in the age of Stalin.


(The entire section is 2247 words.)