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New Left Review I/39, September-October 1966

Ben Brewster

Introduction to Lukacs on Bukharin

Introduction to Lukács on Bukharin

Merleau-Ponty once described Lukács’ work as a ‘too notional dialectic (which) does not convey the opacity, or at least obscurity of real history’. This remark probably expresses most readers’ immediate reaction to Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein. Recently, this abstraction has been cited as part of a general indictment of all Lukács’ work, and all that of those Marxists in the tradition which he initiated. Whatever our ultimate judgment of his work as a whole, Lukács’ celebrated criticism of Bukharin—never before translated into any language—shows that the impression of abstraction derives from the special purpose of Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein, not from the essence of Lukács’ Marxism. Lukács’ training in the social sciences was from Simmel and Weber, that is, classical German sociology. Weber’s work, the summation of this tradition, is notorious for two things: firstly its erudition, the wealth of detailed comparative analyses of every kind of society; and secondly its obsession with rationality, which took the form of a surreptitious evolutionism that saw increasing rationalization and socialization everywhere as the destiny of the West. As Weber refused a general theory of social development, this evolutionism, though all-pervasive in his work, remains untheorized. In Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein Lukács used concepts from this side of the tradition (socialization, reification) to reveal new aspects of what was a general historical scheme—Marx’s analyses of feudalism and capitalism and the passage between them. This is, of course, also the favourite field of Tönnies, Simmel and Weber, but Lukács’ concept of the historical totality enabled him to link their conceptual abstractions to the concrete history of the last few centuries. In the process Weber’s overall conceptions are concretized, but Marx’s highly specific historical analyses are etherealized. Hence the abstraction of Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein is relative to Das Kapital, not to Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft.

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