Georg Lukacs brings me back to my days as a graduate student studying Philosophy at the New School for Social Research back in 1967. I took a class on Western Philosophy with Aaron Gurwitsch, a disciple of Husserl's. Gurwitsch tried to show that all philosophy since Descartes is an attempt to resolve the mind-body, subject-object contradiction.
What was the subject-object contradiction about anyhow? I believe it has something to do with whether a tree falls in the woods, and there is nobody there to observe it, has the tree actually fallen. This was what I would listen to each day while I went home and watched B52s dropping their payload on peasants. Somehow I concluded that nobody doubted the reality of these bombs.
Gurwitsch used to wind up his lecture series by announcing to the students that Husserl had solved the mind-body contradiction once and for all through his theory of intentionality. This meant the conscious mind, through its tendency to give things meaning or "intention", had primacy. This always sounded like another form of idealism to me, but what the hell do I know.
Anyhow, along comes Lukacs. He is steeped in the same philosophical tradition and preoccupied with the same subject-object problems. Apparently they have hobnobbed with the same European intelligentsia since Gurewitsch always used to drop Max Weber's, one of Lukacs' name every time he got the chance. Lukacs and Weber were pen-pals.
The big difference between Lukacs and Gurewitsch is that Gurewitsch completely omitted Hegel's contribution to the discussion, or dismissed it as being somewhat irrelevant. Gurewitsch went directly from Kant to Husserl.
Lukacs, a convert to Marxism, thought that the resolution to the mind- body problem was in the general approach of Hegelianism with its grand synthesis. Moreover, the highest resolution within this framework was Marxism itself since the only way that OBJECTIVE TRUTH could be uncovered was through the self-realization and self- emancipation of the working-class. Once the working-class abolishes the conditions of its exploitation--capitalism--alienation between a fully conscious humanity and the objective world would be overcome. Pretty neat idea.
This was not the main thing that stuck with me while reading Lukacs, however.
What stuck with me is how different his approach to the working-class was from Engels. In Engels (and in Marx), the working-class was an *emerging* class. It was mostly farmers who had been spinners in their little farmhouses who made yarn when they weren't growing crops or reaping them. As spinning became mechanized, fewer independent craftsmen were needed and the surplus labor was absorbed by the factory system of the 1840s.
Lukacs was dealing with the working-class of the modern industrial era however. The working-class of immense factories living in immense cities. Class divisions had become fairly stable in Western Europe around the turn of the twentieth century. While Social Democrats like Bernstein had concluded that the new situation meant that the old, violent contradictions no longer existed, Lukacs asserted that the class-struggle still had relevance. Not only was it relevant in the presence of the recently concluded imperialist war, it was also present in the general powerlessness of the working-class. Here was a class that created the wealth of society but had no political power. This, it would seem, would generate revolutionary class consciousness whether or not there were wars and depressions.
I am beginning to think this whole question and I am looking forward to this cyberseminar to thrash things out. Do you recall when Jon Flanders made the point the other week about telling his fellow rail- workers (fellow is correct, I believe) that it was only fitting that they "take things over" politically since they ran the economy themselves anyhow. Or something to that effect.
I believe that Marxism, Lukacs included, has been much to influenced by the analogy of the bourgeois revolution. There will be conflicts between the ascending bourgeoisie and the feudal class in its decline because the bourgeoisie needs to consolidate its political power in order to consolidate its economic power. The decadent gentry class stands in the way.
Is this true of the modern proletariat?
In discussing the NEP in the early Soviet Union, I made the following comment:
"Even if civil war had not decimated the working-class, there were still special problems that confronted socialist revolution in backward countries like Russia. Nikolai Bukharin was very clear about the differences between the bourgeois revolution and proletarian revolutions. Marxists traditionally had believed that just as capitalism emerged out of the old feudal order, so would socialism emerge out of bourgeois society. However, as Bukharin pointed out, the bourgeoisie was not an exploited class and therefore was able to rule society long before its political revolution was effected. The workers are in a completely different position, however. They lack an independent economic base and suffer economic and cultural exploitation. Prior to its revolution, the working-class remains backward and therefore, unlike the bourgeoisie, is unable to prepare itself in advance for ruling all of society. It was only through the seizure of power and rule through a vanguard party that the workers could build socialism."
Now this was the working-class of a backward society. What about the working-class of Western Europe, the US and Japan? What evidence is there that this class *under normal circumstances* would want to become the new ruling class? In the Soviet Union, it was hardly prepared to become the new ruling-class even if it was conscious of its role. There is some question about how conscious it was in this respect since the Bolshevik Party acted as a "regent" of this emerging class anyhow. Furthermore, Lenin commented that this class had pretty much disappeared by 1921 anyhow.
In studying the United States since the 1920s, what evidence do we have of an ambitious working-class that is saying something like, "Out of the way, Rockefeller, it is our turn now." Isn't the case that most workers become politically active not in an attempt to restructure society on a model of new class relations? Don't they engage in struggle to remove concrete forms of oppression such as depression and war?
These are some thoughts that occurred to me while reading Lukacs. I plan to read Gramsci next on "Americanism and Fordism" and will have more to say.