Why still read Lukács? (abridged in CPGB Weekly Worker)

The place of “philosophical” questions in Marxism

Chris Cutrone

Why read Georg Lukács today? Especially when his most famous work, History and class consciousness, is so clearly an expression of its specific historical moment: the aborted world revolution of 1917-19, in which he participated, attempting to follow Vladimir Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg. Are there ‘philosophical’ lessons to be learned or principles to be gleaned from Lukács’s work, or is there, rather, the danger, as Mike Macnair has put it, of “theoretical overkill” – the stymieing of political possibilities, closing up the struggle for socialism in tiny authoritarian and politically sterile sects founded on “theoretical agreement”?

Mike Macnair’s article, ‘The philosophy trap’,1 argues about the issue of the relation between theory and practice in the history of ostensible ‘Leninism’, taking issue in particular with Lukács’s books, History and class consciousness (1923) and Lenin (1924), as well as with Karl Korsch’s 1923 essay, ‘Marxism and philosophy’.2 The issue is what kind of theoretical generalisation of consciousness could be derived from the experience of Bolshevism from 1903-21. I agree with Macnair that ‘philosophical’ agreement is not the proper basis for political agreement, but this is not the same as saying that political agreement has no theoretical implications. I have discussed this previously in ‘The philosophy of history’3 and ‘Defending Marxist Hegelianism against a Marxist critique’.4 The issue is whether theoretical ‘positions’ have necessary political implications. I think it is a truism to say that there is no sure theoretical basis for effective political practice. But Macnair seems to be saying nothing more than this. In subordinating theory to practice, Macnair loses sight of the potential critical role theory can play in political practice.

A certain relation of theory to practice is a matter specific to the modern era, and moreover a problem specific to the era of capitalism: that is, after the industrial revolution, the emergence of the modern proletarianised working class and its struggle for socialism, and the crisis of bourgeois social relations and thus of consciousness of society involved in this process.

Critical theory recognises that the role of theory in the attempt to transform society is not to justify or legitimate or provide normative sanction, not to rationalise what is happening anyway, but rather to critique, to explore conditions of possibility for change. The role of such critical theory is not to describe how things are, but rather how they might become, how things could and should be, but are not yet.

The political distinction, then, would be not over the description of reality, but rather the question of what can and should be changed, and over the direction of that change. Hence, critical theory as such goes beyond the distinction of analysis from description. The issue is not theoretical analysis proper to practical matters, but, beyond that, the issue of transforming practices, with active agency and subjective recognition, as opposed to merely experiencing change as something that has already happened. Capitalism itself is a transformative practice, but that transformation has eluded consciousness, specifically regarding the ways change has happened and political judgments about this. This is the specific role of theory, and hence the place of theoretical issues or ‘philosophical’ concerns in Marxism. Marxist critical theory cannot be compared to other forms of theory, because they are not concerned with changing the world and the politics of our changing practices. Lukács distinguished Marxism from “contemplative” or “reified” consciousness, to which bourgeois society had otherwise succumbed in capitalism.

‘Proletarian socialism’

The ‘proletariat’ was Marx’s neologism for the condition of the post-industrial revolution working class, which was analogous metaphorically to the ancient Roman republic’s class of ‘proletarians’: the modern industrial working class was composed of “citizens without property”. In modern, bourgeois society – for instance, in the view of John Locke – property in objects is derived from labour, which is the first property. Hence, to be a labourer without property is a self-contradiction in a very specific sense, in that the ‘expropriation’ of labour in capitalism happens as a function of society. A modern ‘free wage-labourer’ is supposed to be a contractual agent with full rights of ownership and disposal over her own labour in its exchange, its buying and selling as property, as a commodity. This is the most elementary form of right in bourgeois society, from which other claims – for instance, individual right to one’s own person and equality before the law – flow.

If, according to Marx and Engels, the condition of the modern, post-industrial revolution working class or ‘proletariat’ expressed a self-contradiction of bourgeois social relations, this was because this set of social relations, or “bourgeois right”, was in need of transformation: the industrial revolution indicated a potential condition beyond bourgeois society. If the workers were expropriated, according to Marx and Engels, this was because of a problem of the value of labour at a greater societal level, not at the level of the individual capitalist firm, not reducible to the contractual relation of the employee to her employer, which remained ‘fair exchange’. The wage contract was still bourgeois, but the value of the labour exchanged was undermined in the greater (global) society, which was no longer simply bourgeois, but rather industrial: that is, ‘capital’-ist.

The struggle for socialism by the proletariat was the attempt to reappropriate the social property of labour that had been transformed and ‘expropriated’ or ‘alienated’ in the industrial revolution. Marx and Engels thought this could be achieved only beyond capitalism: for instance, in the value of accumulated past labour in science and technology, what Marx called the ‘general (social) intellect’. An objective condition was expressed subjectively, but that objective condition of society was itself self-contradictory and so expressed in a self-contradictory form of political subjectivity: ‘proletarian socialism’.

For Marx and Engels, the greatest exemplar of this self-contradictory form of politics aiming to transform society was Chartism in Britain, a movement of the high moment of the industrial revolution and its crisis in the 1830s-40s, whose most pointed political expression was, indicatively, universal suffrage. The crisis of the bust period of the ‘hungry 40s’ indicated the maturation of bourgeois society, in crisis, as the preceding boom era of the 1830s already had raised expectations of socialism, politically as well as technically and culturally – for example, in the ‘utopian socialism’ of Fourier, Saint-Simon, Owen et al, as well as in the ‘Young Hegelian’ movement taking place around the world in the 1830s, on whose scene the younger Marx and Engels arrived belatedly, during its crisis and dissolution in the 1840s.

One must distinguish between the relation of theory and practice in the revolutionary bourgeois era and in the post-industrial revolution era of the crisis of bourgeois society in capitalism and the proletariat’s struggle for socialism. If in the bourgeois era there was a productive tension, a reflective, speculative or ‘philosophical’ relation: for instance, for Kant and Hegel, between theory and practice, in the era of the crisis of bourgeois society there is rather a ‘negative’ or ‘critical’ relation. Hence, the need for Marxism.

The division in Marxism

The title, History and class consciousness, should be properly understood directly as indicating that Lukács’s studies, the various essays collected in the book, were about class-consciousness as consciousness of history.

This goes back to the early Marx and Engels, who understood the emergence of the modern proletariat and its political struggles for socialism after the industrial revolution in a ‘Hegelian’ manner: that is, as phenomena or ‘forms of appearance’ of society and history specific to the 19th century. Moreover, Marx and Engels, in their point of departure for ‘Marxism’, as opposed to other varieties of Hegelianism and socialism, looked forward to the dialectical ‘Aufhebung’ of this new modern proletariat: its simultaneous self-fulfilment and completion, self-negation and self-transcendence in socialism, which would be (also) that of capitalism. In other words, Marx and Engels regarded the proletariat in the struggle for socialism as the central, key phenomenon of capitalism, but the symptomatic expression of its crisis, self-contradiction and need for self-overcoming. This is because capitalism was regarded as a form of society, specifically the form of bourgeois society’s crisis and self-contradiction. As Hegelians, Marx and Engels regarded contradiction as the appearance of the necessity and possibility for change.

So the question becomes, what is the meaning of the self-contradiction of bourgeois society, the self-contradiction of bourgeois social relations, expressed by the post-industrial revolution working class and its forms of political struggle?

Marx and Engels regarded the politics of proletarian socialism as a form of bourgeois politics in crisis and self-contradiction. This is what it meant when they say that the objective existence of the proletariat and its subjective struggle for socialism were phenomena of the self-contradiction of bourgeois society and its potential Aufhebung.

The struggle for socialism was self-contradictory. This is what Lukács ruminated on in History and class consciousness. However, this was not original to Lukács or achieved by Lukács’s reading of Marx and Engels, but rather mediated through the politics of Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg: Lenin and Luxemburg provided access, for Lukács as well as others in the nascent Third or Communist International, to the ‘original Marxism’ of Marx and Engels. For Marx and Engels recognised that socialism was inevitably ideological: a self-contradictory form of politics and consciousness. The question was how to advance the contradiction.

As a participant in the project of the Communist International, for Lukács in History and class consciousness and Lenin (as well as for Karl Korsch in ‘Marxism and philosophy’ and other writings circa 1923), the intervening Marxism of the Second or Socialist International had become an obstacle to Marx’s and Engels’s Marxism and thus to proletarian socialist revolution in the early 20th century – an obstacle that the political struggles of Lenin, Luxemburg and other radicals in the Second International sought to overcome. This obstacle of Second International Marxism had theoretical as well as practical-political aspects: it was expressed both at the level of theoretical consciousness and at the level of political organisation.

Second International Marxism had become an obstacle. According to Luxemburg, in Reform and revolution (1900) and in Lenin’s What is to be done? (1902) – the latter of which was an attempted application of the terms of the revisionist dispute in the Second International to conditions in the Russian movement – the development of proletarian socialism in the Second International had produced its own obstacle, so to the speak, in becoming self-divided between ‘orthodox Marxists’, who retained fidelity to the revolutionary politics of proletarian socialism in terms of the revolutions of 1848 and the Paris Commune of 1871, and ‘revisionists’, who thought that political practice and theoretical consciousness of Marxism demanded transformation under the altered historical social conditions that had been achieved by the workers’ struggle for socialism, which proceeded in an ‘evolutionary’ way.

Eduard Bernstein gave the clearest expression of this ‘revisionist’ view, which was influenced by the apparent success of British Fabianism leading to the contemporary formation of the Labour Party, and found its greatest political support among the working class’s trade union leaders in the Second International, especially in Germany. In Bernstein’s view, capitalism was evolving into socialism through the political gains of the workers.

Marxism of the Third International

Lenin, Luxemburg, and Lukács and Korsch among others following them, thought that the self-contradictory nature and character – origin and expression – of proletarian socialism meant that the latter’s development proceeded in a self-contradictory way, and so the movement of historical ‘progress’ was self-contradictory. Luxemburg summarised this view in Reform or revolution, where she pointed out that the growth in organisation and consciousness of the proletariat was itself part of – a new phenomenon of – the self-contradiction of capitalism, and so expressed itself in its own self-contradictory way. This was how Luxemburg grasped the revisionist dispute in the Marxism of the Second International itself.

This self-contradiction was theoretical as well as practical: for Luxemburg and for Lenin the ‘theoretical struggle’ was an expression of practical self-contradiction. Leon Trotsky expressed this ‘orthodox Marxist’ view shared by Lenin and Luxemburg in his 1906 pamphlet Results and prospects, on the 1905 revolution in Russia, by pointing out that the various “prerequisites of socialism”5 were self-contradictory, that they ‘retarded’ rather than promoted each other. This view was due to the understanding that proletarian socialism was bound up in the crisis of capitalism, which was disintegrative: the struggle for socialism was caught up in the disintegration of bourgeois society in capitalism. For Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky, contra Bernstein, the crisis of capitalism was deepening.

While it is conventional to oppose Luxemburg’s and Lenin’s ‘revolutionary socialism’ to the ‘evolutionism’ of Bernstein et al, and hence to oppose Luxemburg’s and Lenin’s ‘dialectical’ Marxism to the revisionist, ‘mechanical’ version, what is lost in this view is the role of historical dynamics of consciousness in Lenin’s and Luxemburg’s (and Trotsky’s) view: this is the phenomenon of historical ‘regression’, as opposed to ‘progress’, which the ‘evolutionary socialism’ of Bernstein et al and later Stalinism assumed. The most important distinction of Luxemburg’s and Lenin’s (as well as Trotsky’s) ‘orthodox’ perspective – in Lukács’s (and Korsch’s) view, what made their Marxism ‘dialectical’ and ‘Hegelian’ – was its recognition of historical ‘regression’: its recognition of bourgeois society as disintegrative and self-destructive in its crisis of capitalism. But this process of disintegration was recognised as affecting the proletariat and its politics as well.

Korsch and the problem of ‘philosophy’

Karl Korsch, Lukács’s contemporary in the Third International, whose work Macnair deliberately and explicitly puts aside, offered a pithy formulation in his 1923 essay on ‘Marxism and philosophy’: “a problem which supersedes present relations may have been formulated in an anterior epoch”.6 That is, we may live under the shadow of a problem that goes beyond us.

This is a non-linear, non-progressive and recursive view of history, which Korsch gleaned from Luxemburg’s and Lenin’s contributions to the revisionist dispute (eg, Reform or revolution, What is to be done?, etc; and Trotsky’s Results and prospects). It has its origins in Marx’s and Engels’s view of capitalism as a regressive, disintegrative process. This view has two registers: the self-contradiction and crisis of bourgeois social relations in the transition to capital-ism after the industrial revolution; and the disintegrative and self-destructive process of the reproduction of capitalism itself, which takes place within and as a function of the reproduction of bourgeois social relations, through successive crises.

Marx and Engels recognised that the crisis of capitalism was motivated by the reproduction of bourgeois social relations under conditions of the disintegration of the value of labour in the industrial revolution, producing the need for socialism. The industrial-era working class’s struggle for the social value of its labour was at once regressive, as if bourgeois social relations of the value of labour had not been undermined by the industrial revolution, and pointed beyond capitalism, in that the realisation of the demands for the proper social value of labour would actually mean overcoming labour as value in society, transforming work from ‘life’s prime need’ to ‘life’s prime want’: work would be done not out of the social compulsion to labour in the valorisation process of capital, but rather out of intrinsic desire and interest; and society would provide for “each according to his need” from “each according to his ability”.

Korsch’s argument in ‘Marxism and philosophy’ was focused on a very specific problem: the status of philosophy in Marxism, in the direct sense of Marx and Engels being followers of Hegel, and Hegel representing a certain ‘end’ to philosophy, in which the world became philosophical and philosophy became worldly. Hegel announced that, with his work, philosophy was ‘completed’, as a function of recognising how society had become ‘philosophical’, or mediated through conceptual theory in ways previously not the case. Marx and Engels accepted Hegel’s conclusion, in which case the issue was to further the revolution of bourgeois society – the ‘philosophical’ world that demanded worldly ‘philosophy’. The disputes among the Hegelians in the 1830s and 40s were concerned, properly, with precisely the politics of the bourgeois world and its direction for change. The problem, according to Korsch, was that, after the failure of the revolutions of 1848, there was a recrudescence of ‘philosophy’, and that this was something other than what had been practised either traditionally by the ancients or in modernity by revolutionary bourgeois thinkers – thinkers of the revolution of the bourgeois era – such as Kant and Hegel (also Rousseau, John Locke, Adam Smith et al).

What constitutes ‘philosophical’ questions? Traditionally, philosophy was concerned with three kinds of questions: ontology, what we are; epistemology, how we know; and the good life, how we ought to live. Starting with Kant, such traditional philosophical ‘first questions’ of prima philosophia or ‘first philosophy’ were no longer asked, or, if they were asked, they were strictly subordinated or rendered secondary to the question of the relation of theory and practice, or, how we account to ourselves what we are doing.

Marxism is not a philosophy in the traditional sense, any more than Kant’s and Hegel’s philosophy was traditional. Lenin, in the conclusion of Materialism and empirio-criticism (1908), summed up that the late 19th century Neo-Kantians “started with Kant and, leaving him, proceeded not [forwards] towards [Marxist] materialism, but in the opposite direction, [backwards] towards Hume and Berkeley”.7 It is not, along the lines of a traditional materialist ontology, that firstly we are material beings; epistemologically, we know the world empirically through our bodily senses; and ethically we must serve the needs of our true, material bodily nature. No. For Kant and his followers, including Hegel and Marx, rather, we consciously reflect upon an ongoing process from within its movement: we do not step back from what we are doing and try to establish a ‘first’ basis for asking our questions; those questions arise, rather, from within our ongoing practices and their transformations. Empirical facts cannot be considered primary if they are to be changed. Theory may go beyond the facts by influencing their transformation in practice.

Society is the source of our practices and their transformations, and hence of our theoretical consciousness of them. Society, according to Rousseau, is the source of our ability to act contrary to our ‘first nature’, to behave in unnatural ways. This is our freedom. And for Kant and his followers, our highest moral duty in the era of the process of ‘enlightenment’ was to serve the cause of freedom. This meant serving the revolution of bourgeois emancipation from traditional civilisation, changing society. However, Kant considered the full achievement of bourgeois society to be the mere ‘mid-point’ of the development of freedom. Hegel and Marxism inherited and assumed this projective perspective on the transitional character of bourgeois society.

Marx and Engels can be considered to have initiated a ‘second enlightenment’ in the 19th century: the degree to which capitalism presented new problems unknown in the pre-industrial revolution bourgeois era, because they had not yet arisen in practice. By contrast, philosophers who continued to ask such traditional questions of ontology, epistemology and ethics were actually addressing the problem of the relation of theory and practice in the capitalist era, whether they recognised this or not. Assuming the traditional basis for philosophical questions in the era of capitalism obscured the real issue and rendered ‘philosophy’ ideological. This is why ‘philosophy’ needed to be abolished. The question was, how?

The recrudescence of philosophy in the late 19th century was, according to Korsch, a symptom of the failure of socialism in 1848, but as such expressed a genuine need: the necessity of relating theory and practice as a problem of consciousness under conditions of capitalism. In this respect, Marxism was the sustaining of the Kantian-Hegelian ‘critical philosophy’, but under changed conditions from the bourgeois-revolutionary era to that of capitalism. Korsch analogised this to the recrudescence of the state in post-1848 Bonapartism, which contradicted the bourgeois-revolutionary, liberal prognosis of the subordination of the state to civil society and thus the state’s ‘withering away’, its functions absorbed into free social relations. This meant recognising the need to overcome recrudescent philosophy as analogous to the need to overcome the capitalist state, the transformation of its necessity through socialism. ‘Bonapartism in philosophy’ thus expressed a new, late-found need in capitalism, to free society. We look to ‘philosophers’ to do our thinking for us the same way we look to authoritarian leaders politically.

As Korsch put it, the only way to ‘abolish’ philosophy would be to ‘realise’ it8 : socialism would be the attainment of the ‘philosophical world’ promised by bourgeois emancipation but betrayed by capitalism, which renders society – our social practices – opaque. It would be premature to say that under capitalism everyone is already a philosopher. Indeed, the point is that none are. But this is because of the alienation and reification of bourgeois social relations in capitalism, which renders the Kantian-Hegelian ‘worldly philosophy’ of the critical relation of theory and practice an aspiration rather than an actuality. Nonetheless, Marxist critical theory accepted the task of such modern critical philosophy, specifically regarding the ideological problem of theory and practice in the struggle for socialism. This is what it meant to say, as was formulated in the Second International, that the workers’ movement for socialism was the inheritor of German idealism: it was the inheritor of the revolutionary process of bourgeois emancipation, which the bourgeoisie, compromised by capitalism, had abandoned. The task remained.

Transformation of Marxism

Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky – ‘orthodox Marxists’ of the Second International who radicalised their perspectives in the crisis of the International and of Marxism in world war and revolution 1914-19, and were followed by Lukács and Korsch – were subjects of a historical moment: the crisis of bourgeois society in capitalism was expressed by social and political crisis and the movement for ‘proletarian socialist’ revolution, beginning, after the industrial revolution, in the 1830s-40s, and the attempt to revolutionise society centrally by the wage-labourers as such, a movement dominated from 1889-1914 by the practical politics as well as theoretical consciousness of Marxism.

Why would Lukács and Korsch in the 20th century return to the origins of Marxism in Hegelianism, in what Korsch called the consciousness of the ‘revolt of the third estate’, a process of the 17th and 18th centuries (that had already begun earlier)? Precisely because Lukács and Korsch sought to address Marxism’s relation to the revolt of the third estate’s bourgeois glorification of the social relations of labour, and the relation of this to the democratic revolution (see, for example, Abbé Sieyès’s revolutionary 1789 pamphlet What is the third estate?9 ): how Marxism recognised that this relation between labour and democracy continued in 19th century socialism, however problematically. In Lukács’s and Korsch’s view, proletarian socialism sustained just this bourgeois revolution, albeit under the changed conditions of the industrial revolution and its capitalist aftermath.

Mike Macnair acknowledges this in his focus on the English enlightenment ‘materialist empiricism’ of John Locke in the 17th and 18th centuries and on the British Chartism of the early 19th century, their intrinsic continuity in the democratic revolution, and Marx and Engels’s continuity with both. But then Macnair takes Kant and Hegel – and thus Lukács and Korsch, following them – to be counter-enlightenment and anti-democratic thinkers accommodating autocratic political authority, drawing this from Hume’s alleged turn away from the radicalism of Locke back to Hobbes’s political conservatism, and Kant and Hegel’s alleged affirmation of the Prussian state.

But this account leaves out the crucially important influence on Kant and German idealism more generally by Rousseau, of whom Hegel remarked that “freedom dawned on the world” in his works, and who critiqued and departed from Hobbes’s naturalistic society of “war of all against all” and built rather upon Locke’s contrary view of society and politics, sustaining and promoting the revolution in bourgeois society as ‘more than the sum of its parts’, revolutionary in its social relations per se, seminal for the American and French revolutions of the later 18th century. Capital in the 19th century, in the Marxist view, as the continued social compulsion to wage-labour after its crisis of value in the industrial revolution, both is and is not the Rousseauian ‘general will’ of capitalist society: it is a self-contradictory ‘mode of production’ and set of social relations, expressed through self-contradictory consciousness, in theory and practice, of its social and political subjects: first and foremost the consciousness of the proletariat. It is self-contradictory both objectively and subjectively, both in theory and in practice.

Marx’s and Engels’s point was to encourage and advance the proletariat’s critical recognition of the self-contradictory character of its struggle for socialism, in what Marx called the “logical extreme”10 of the role of the proletariat in the democratic revolution of the 19th century, which could not, according to Marx, take its “poetry” from the 17th and 18th centuries, as clearly expressed in the failure of the revolutions of 1848, Marx’s famous formulation of the need for “revolution in permanence”. What this means is that the democratic revolutionary aspirations of the wage-labourers for the “social republic” was the self-contradictory demand for the realisation of the social value of labour after this had already taken the form of accumulated capital, what Marx called the “general intellect”.

It is not the social value of labour, but rather that of this “general intellect”, which must be reappropriated, and by the wage-labourers themselves, in their discontents as subjects of democracy. The ongoing democratic revolution renders this both possible and superfluous, in that it renders the state both the agency of and obstacle to this reappropriation, in post-1848 Bonapartism, which promises everything to everyone – to solve the ‘social question’ of capitalism – but provides nothing, a diversion of the democratic revolution under conditions of self-contradictory bourgeois social relations: the state promises employment, but gives unemployment benefits or subsidises the lost value of wages.

In the 20th century, under the pressure of mass democracy – itself the result of the class struggle of the workers – the role of the state as self-contradictory and helpless manager of capitalism came to full fruition, but not through the self-conscious activity of the working class’s political struggle for socialism, confronting the need to overcome the role of the state, but more obscurely, with perverse results. Lenin’s point in The state and revolution (1917) was the need for the revolutionary transformation of society beyond “bourgeois right” that the state symptomatically expressed; but, according to Lenin, this could be accomplished only “on the basis of capitalism itself”.11 If the working class among others in bourgeois society has succumbed to what Lukács called the ‘reification’ of bourgeois social relations, then this has been completely naturalised and can no longer be called out and recognised as such. For Lukács, ‘reification’ referred to the hypostatisation and conservatisation of the workers’ own politics in protecting their ‘class interest’ – what Lenin called mere “trade union consciousness” (including that of nationalist competition) in capitalism – rather than rising to the need to overcome this in practice, recognising how the workers’ political struggles might point beyond and transcend themselves. This included democracy, which could occult the social process of capitalism as much as reveal it.

Why still ‘philosophy’?

The problem today is that we are not faced, as Lukács and Korsch were, with the self-contradiction of the proletariat’s struggle for socialism in the political problem of the reified forms of the working class substituting for those of bourgeois society in its decadence. We replay the revolt of the third estate and its demands for the social value of labour, but we do not have occasion to recognise what Lukács regarded as the emptiness of bourgeois social relations of labour, its value evacuated by technical, but not political transcendence. We have lost sight of the problem of ‘reification’ as Lukács meant it.

As Hegel scholar Robert Pippin has concluded, in a formulation that is eminently agreeable to Korsch’s perspective on the continuation of philosophy as a symptom of failed transformation of society, in an essay addressing how, by contrast with the original “Left-Hegelian, Marxist, Frankfurt school tradition”, today, “the problem with contemporary critical theory is that it has become insufficiently critical”: perhaps philosophy “exists to remind us we haven’t gotten anywhere”.12

The problem of what Rousseau called the “reflective” and Kant and Hegel, after Rousseau, called the “speculative” relation of theory and practice in bourgeois society’s crisis in capitalism, recognised once by historical Marxism as the critical self-consciousness of proletarian socialism and its self-contradictions, has not gone away, but was only driven underground. The revolution originating in the bourgeois era in the 17th and 18th centuries that gave rise to the modern philosophy of freedom in Rousseauian enlightenment and German idealism and that advanced to new problems in the industrial revolution and the proletarianisation of society, perverting ‘bourgeois right’ into a form of domination rather than emancipation – and expressed through the Bonapartist state’s perversion of democracy, which was recognised by Marxism in the 19th century, but failed in the 20th century – may still task us.

This is why we might, still, be reading Lukács. | §

This article is based on a presentation given on January 11 2014 in Chicago. A video recording is available at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyAx32lzC0U; and audio recording at https://archive.org/details/cutrone_lukacsteachin011114_201401.
Originally published in
Weekly Worker 994 (January 23, 2014) [PDF].


  1. Weekly Worker November 21 2013. []
  2. www.marxists.org/archive/korsch/1923/marxism-philosophy.htm. []
  3. Weekly Worker June 9 2011. []
  4. Weekly Worker August 11 2011. []
  5. www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1931/tpr/rp-index.htm. []
  6. www.marxists.org/archive/korsch/1923/marxism-philosophy.htm. []
  7. www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1908/mec/concl.htm. []
  8. www.marxists.org/archive/korsch/1923/marxism-philosophy.htm. []
  9. www.college.columbia.edu/core/sites/core/files/text/sieyes2003-4_0.pdf. []
  10. K Marx, ‘Address to the central committee of the Communist League’, March 1850. []
  11. VI Lenin ‘Leftwing’ communism: an infantile disorder, 1920. []
  12. R Pippin, ‘On critical inquiry and critical theory: a short history of non-being’ Critical Inquiry No30, winter 2004, pp416-417. []

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