History and Class Consciousness

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History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics
Cover of the first edition
Author György Lukács
Original title Geschichte und Klassenbewußtsein: Studien über marxistische Dialektik
Translator Rodney Livingstone
Country Hungary
Language German
Subject Karl Marx, Marxism
  • 1923 (in German)
  • 1971 (The Merlin Press, in English)
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)
Pages 356 (English edition)
ISBN 0-262-62020-0
LC Class 70-146824

History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics (German: Geschichte und Klassenbewußtsein: Studien über marxistische Dialektik) is a 1923 book by the Hungarian philosopher György Lukács, in which Lukács re-emphasizes Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's influence on Karl Marx, analyses the concept of class consciousness, and attempts a philosophical justification of Bolshevism. History and Class Consciousness, which helped to create Western Marxism, is the book for which Lukács is best known, and some of his pronouncements have become famous. Nevertheless, History and Class Consciousness was condemned in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and Lukács later repudiated its ideas, and came to believe that in it he had confused Hegel's concept of alienation with that of Marx. It has been suggested that the concept of reification as employed in Martin Heidegger's Being and Time (1927) shows the strong influence of History and Class Consciousness, though such a relationship remains disputed.


Lukács attempts a philosophical justification of Bolshevism, stressing the distinction between actual class consciousness and "ascribed" class consciousness, the attitudes the proletariat would have if they were aware of all of the facts.[1] Marx's idea of class consciousness is seen as a thought which directly intervenes into social being.[2] Claiming to return to Marx's methodology,[3] Lukács re-emphasizes Hegel's influence on Marx, emphasizes dialectics over materialism, makes concepts such as alienation and reification central to his theory,[1] and argues for the primacy of the concept of totality.[3] Lukács speaks of Marx as an eschatological thinker.[4] He makes the case that his Hegelian Marxism is the correct version, opposing the Soviet version of Marxism based on a dialectics of nature inspired by Friedrich Engels.[3]

In the essay "What is Orthodox Marxism?", Lukács argues that methodology is the only thing that distinguishes Marxism: even if all its substantive propositions were rejected, it would remain valid because of its distinctive method.[5] According to Lukács, "Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx’s investigations. It is not the ‘belief’ in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a ‘sacred’ book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method. It is the scientific conviction that dialectical materialism is the road to truth and that its methods can be developed, expanded and deepened only along the lines laid down by its founders."[6]

Lukács maintains that it is through Marx's use of the dialectic that capitalist society can be seen as essentially reified and the proletariat viewed as the true subject of history and the only possible salvation of humanity. All truth, including Marx's materialist conception of history itself, is to be seen in relation to the proletariat's historical mission. Truth, no longer given, must instead be understood in terms of the relative moments in the process of the unfolding of the real union of theory and praxis: the totality of social relations. This union must be grasped through proletarian consciousness and directed party action in which subject and object are one.[3]

History and Class Consciousness was republished in 1967 with a new preface in which Lukács described the circumstances that allowed him to read Marx's newly deciphered Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 in 1930, two years before their publication. After reading them, Lukács concluded that in History and Class Consciousness he had made a basic mistake, that of confusing Hegel's and Marx's respective concepts of alienation. To Hegel, alienation is the objectivity of nature, but for Marx, it refers not to natural objects but to what happens to the products of labor when social relationships make them commodities or capital.[7]

Reception and influence

Extremely influential,[8] History and Class Consciousness is the work for which Lukács is best known.[1] Lukács's pronouncements in "What is Orthodox Marxism?" have become famous.[5] History and Class Consciousness helped to create Western Marxism in Europe and America, and influenced Karl Mannheim's work on the sociology of knowledge, but led to Lukács being condemned in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The communist attack on Lukács was so extreme that it led him to write an apologetic essay on Vladimir Lenin's established views (Lenin: A Study in the Unity of His Thought).[3] In his later career, Lukács repudiated the ideas of History and Class Consciousness, in particular the belief in the proletariat as a "subject-object of history" (1960 Postface to the French translation). As late as 1925-1926, he still defended these ideas, in an unfinished manuscript, which he called Tailism and the Dialectic. It was not published until 1996 in Hungarian and English in 2000 under the title A Defence of History and Class Consciousness.

David McLellan writes that the publication of Marx's key earlier writings vindicated Lukács's interpretation of Marx.[1] Philosopher Lucio Colletti believes that although the publication of those writings disproved some of the assumptions of History and Class Consciousness, the problem of the nature of alienation remained valid.[7] Lukács's work was a crucial text for the French Situationist Guy Debord,[9] although Debord wrote in The Society of the Spectacle (1967) that Lukács, by arguing that the Bolshevik party provided a mediation between theory and practice that enabled proletarians to determine events within their organization instead of being spectators of them, was describing the opposite of how it functioned in reality.[10] Jürgen Habermas's initial understanding of Marx came through Lukács's work, while Tom Rockmore has described it as "brilliant."[11]

Some writers have compared Lukács to Heidegger, though the existence of any relationship between the two has been disputed.[12][13] The Marxist philosopher Lucien Goldmann argues in his posthumously published Lukacs and Heidegger: Towards a New Philosophy (1973) that the concept of reification as employed in Heidegger's Being and Time (1927) showed the strong influence of History and Class Consciousness (1923), although Heidegger never mentions Lukács in his writing and Laurence Paul Hemming, writing in Heidegger and Marx (2013), finds the suggestion that Lukács influenced Heidegger to be highly unlikely at best.[13] Literary critic George Steiner writes that Lukács, as the author of History and Class Consciousness, shares with Heidegger "a commitment to the concrete, historically existential quality of human acts of perception and intellection."[12]

Literary critic Frederick Crews writes that in History and Class Consciousness, Lukács "made a fatefully ingenious attempt to abolish, through metaphysical prestidigitation, the newly apparent chasm between Marx's historical laws and the triumph of Bolshevism."[14] Economists M. C. Howard and J. E. King praise the sophistication of Lukács's Hegelian understanding of how to specify the interests of the proletariat.[15] Cultural critic Slavoj Žižek describes the Lukács of History and Class Consciousness as, "the philosopher of Lenin's historical moment". Žižek believes that Lukács's achievement is to bring together the topic of commodity fetishism and reification with the topic of the Party and revolutionary strategy.[16]

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 McLellan 2005. p. 547.
  2. Žižek 2011. p. 320.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Bien 1999. p. 521.
  4. Fromm 1975. p. 69.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Wright 1992. pp. 103-104.
  6. Lukács 2000. p. 1.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Colletti 1992. pp. 16-17.
  8. McLellan 1995. p. 443.
  9. Hussey 2001. p. 214.
  10. Debord 1994. p. 81.
  11. Rockmore 1989. p. 110.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Steiner 1989. pp. 74-75.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Hemming 2013. pp. 33-34.
  14. Crews 1986. p. 142.
  15. Howard 1992. p. 39.
  16. Žižek 2011. pp. 196-197, 330.


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External links