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New Left Review I/70, November-December 1971

Gareth Stedman Jones

The Marxism of the Early Lukács: an Evaluation

Nearly half a century after its original publication in Germany, Georg Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness [1] Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, tr. Rodney Livingstone, Merlin Press, London, 1971. This edition is excellently translated and contains some useful explanatory notes at the end of the book. One word of warning is necessary, however. Lukács’s 1967 essay which is used as an introduction to the book, was designed for a volume of the German collected works which cover all his political writings in the 1920’s, and not solely History and Class Consciousness (hereafter abbreviated to hcc). Thus, when on p. xiii Lukács refers to his essay on problems of organization, he is not referring to the essay on organization in hcc. It should also be noted that while Livingstone has translated the term ‘zugerechnetes Klassenbewusstsein’ as ‘imputed class consciousness’, I have preferred the term, ‘ascribed class consciousness’. has at last become available in English. Those who now read the book for the first time may find its contents surprising. For the notoriety of this forbidden volume of the early Communist movement seems incommensurate at first sight with the familiarity of many of its themes. Despite the formal difficulty of Lukács’s language, contemporary readers are likely to find themselves at home with most of the central leitmotifs in the book. For in one form or another, these have by now become part of the common intellectual universe of a large part of the left in the advanced capitalist world. But to say this is not to imply that the themes developed by Lukács some fifty years ago and today diffused so generally among socialist intellectuals, are self-explanatory truths or even manifest axioms of Marxism. If they are treated as such, it is because of a second surprising feature of History and Class Consciousness—the virtual absence in almost fifty years of any comprehensive or coherent critique of the book.

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Gareth Stedman Jones, ‘The Marxism of the Early Lukacs: an Evaluation’, NLR I/70: £3

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