In England in the last 10 years great interest has been shown in the work of Georg Luk`cs, particularly in his later works of literary criticism. He has become a grand old man of European letters, and though what is written on him varies between respectful veneration and vituperative detraction neither venerators nor detractors deny him this pre-eminence. The translation of History and Class Consciousness and The Theory of the Novel into French, and the tireless propaganda of Lucien Goldmann and others have led to increasing interest in his earlier work; now Victor Zitta, a Yugoslav emigré professor at an American University has published a study of his early life and writings.footnote1 Unfortunately his book is really as bad as it could have been; it is built around a dislike for Luk`cs which is nothing less than pathological.
The book is divided into three parts: the first two discuss Luk`cs’ writing and other activity from 1908 to 1923, the third is an analysis of History and Class Consciousness. Then there are 40 pages of bibliography; although this is inevitably already outdated, particularly in the section on translations, it is probably the most useful part of the book. The philosophical analysis in the third part can easily be dismissed. Of course dialectical concepts such as ‘mediation’ vanish if examined apart from the totality of concepts in use, and Zitta’s method is precisely to isolate concepts in this way. The only criticism approaching the serious is found in the first two parts, and in the discussion of Luk`cs’ political attitudes at the end of the third. It attempts to establish a neurosis in Luk`cs which is related to a failure to write poetry in a milieu where poetry-writing was the norm; this neurosis expressed itself in a refusal to face up to his admittedly disintegrating bourgeois background and situation, characterized first by a refusal of the world which led from romanticism to mysticism (The Soul and Forms, 1910), then to pure voluntarism (The Poverty of the Spirit, 1912), and finally by way of the dialectic to Hegel (The Theory of the Novel, 1914), and Marx (History and Class Consciousness, 1919–23). This Marxism is put into practice in
This is a grandiose scheme, for such a concrete study of such an individual must include and transcend at least three moments: first a personal, even an existential biography, second a comprehension of his role in history, third an analysis of his position in philosophical and political thought. Zitta discusses all these, but can never grasp any moment in its distinctness, so the analysis collapses into a static unity of isolated facts which are judged by absolute ethical principles.
Of Luk`cs’ personal life we learn almost nothing. Nothing is said about his childhood, his family, or his friends. There is a little on the Hungarian and German intellectual milieu, together with some unsubstantiated attempt at personal denigration. History fares even worse, for although it is more frequently discussed, this gives Zitta all the more opportunity for misunderstanding or falsification. On the pre-war period there is merely a perfunctory analysis of the class situation in Hungary. Closer attention is paid to the revolutions of 1918 and 1919, but even here historical detail is very thin on the ground, and Zitta’s uncritical attitude to Horthyite sources renders almost all statements of fact in this section suspect. Because it is obviously central to his thesis Zitta struggles hard to incriminate Luk`cs for his part in the Commune, but there is very little real fact revealed. The cultural achievements of the time are assessed in such philistine language that this section is just as dubious. Of the two atrocity stories neither is even minimally substantiated, and one is simply impossible: Luk`cs is accused of dragging the poet Endre Ady from his deathbed to a demonstration on March 1st, 1919, and proclaiming him ‘The Saint of the Commune’. (This is 20 days before the proclamation of the Commune.) In fact Endre Ady died in January 1919. Zitta’s examination of Luk`cs’ philosophy, although the least unsatisfactory aspect of the whole book, suffers from a failure to understand Kant and Hegel, or even to sympathize with their concerns. This is course results in a failure to understand the philosophical climate of Germany in the years before the First World War, and Luk`cs’ own development in relation to it; no attempt is made to estimate the influence of Weber, Dilthey, Simmel or Lask. In political thought Luk`cs is unrelated to the debate in the Second International between Kautsky, Lenin and Luxemburg on organization and class consciousness; coupled with this Zitta’s caricature of Lenin vitiates any serious discussion in this field. The general result of this methodological confusion is that all Luk`cs’ acts are subsumed both under historical necessity and ethical absolutes.
But Zitta’s scheme is even more grandiose, for he attempts to generalize from Luk`cs to Marx and thence to all Marxists. They are all neurotic and self-indulgent, the dialectic is a fraud, and, moreover, given comparatively chaotic social conditions large numbers of these individuals can impose their unbalanced outlook on the whole of society, producing terror, violence and anarchy. The book culminates in what is implicitly a condemnation of all action, and the last words are a quotation from Russell to the effect that truth must remain outside human control which is printed unjustified in short lines as if it were a poem or incantation.
Is the material for a concrete study of Luk`cs in fact available? Goldmann has given the basis for the philosophical analysis in Temps Modernes, August 1962, Magri for the political in Critica Marxista, May 6th, 1963. The experience of the Commune of 1919 has been so deeply buried under Horthyite distortion and liberal confusion that its disinterment would be a difficult task, but one worth attempting, for other purposes as well as this one. Given only these two moments a valuable study of Luk`cs could be made, but without the third moment of personal biography it would remain in a sense not a study of Luk`cs at all.