We shall tell them that we do your bidding and rule in your name . . . That deception will be our suffering, for we shall be forced to lie.

Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

From the early nineteen twenties, a process of bureaucratization began in the ussr, in the course of which the Bolshevik Old Guard was gradually replaced by a conservative layer, of which the most competent representative and unchallenged leader was Joseph Stalin. 1926 was one of the decisive moments in this historic turn. It was the year in which Stalin published Questions of Leninism, the first explicit formulation of the doctrine of socialism in one country, and Bukharin exhorted the kulaks to ‘enrich themselves’. It was the year of the Fifteenth Congress of the cpsu, at which the Left Opposition (Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev) were excluded from the Politburo. Lastly, it was in 1926 that Chiang Kai-shek was elected an ‘Honorary Member’ of the Praesidium of the Communist International and that the Soviet trade unions formed a joint committee with the right-wing leaders of the English trade unions who had just sabotaged the 1926 General Strike. Using the pretext of stabilization in Europe after the great revolutionary wave of 1917–23, the Stalinist leadership was gradually to replace revolutionary internationalism with a Realpolitik based on the State interests of the ussr.

In the 1967 preface to History and Class Consciousness, Lukács sums up his response to this transformation in the following terms: ‘After 1924 the Third International correctly defined the position of the capitalist world as one of “relative stability”. These facts meant that I had to rethink my theoretical position. In the debates of the Russian Party I agreed with Stalin about the necessity for socialism in one country and this shows very clearly the start of a new epoch in my thought.’ footnote1 Indeed a decisive re-orientation in the life and work of Lukács began in 1926; a profound theoretical and political break with all his former revolutionary ideas, and in particular with History and Class Consciousness. In a word, after 1926 his writings are characterized by an identification with Stalinism, albeit with many reservations and qualifications.

Just as Lukács’s radicalization had initially been via aesthetics and morals, the new turn first took a cultural and philosophical form, before finding explicit political expression in 1928. In an article written in June 1926, Art for Art’s Sake and Proletarian Poetry, Lukács criticized the Tendenzkunst (politically oriented art) of people like Ernst Toller, the poet and leader of the 1919 Soviet Republic of Bavaria, calling it an ‘abstract and romantic Utopianism’. He gave a general warning about Utopian over-estimation in the cultural sphere: initially, the proletarian revolution can only contribute ‘very little’ to the development of art; cultural changes in the ussr were ‘much less rapid than a superficial view might have led one to hope’. This Utopian superficiality ‘explains the “disillusionment” with the Russian revolution felt by many of those intellectuals who had hoped it would provide an immediate solution to their own particular problems’. footnote2 For Lukács, this article represented a ‘self-criticism’ of his hopes of 1919 that a cultural revolution would appear in the wake of the socialist revolution. footnote3 His renunciation of the ‘Utopia’ of a new culture in the ussr meant for Lukács a return to the bourgeois cultural heritage.