Georg Lukács: Consciousness and Revolution
Written at the crest of the revolutionary wave sparked by the cataclysm of World War I and the 1917 Russian Revolution, Georg Lukács’ History and Class Consciousness stands as one of the most influential Marxist texts of the 20th century. Though suffused with the revolutionary spirit of its time, History and Class Consciousness nevertheless attempts to take stock of the failure of revolutions in Germany (both in Berlin and in Bavaria) and in Lukács’ native Hungary. For Lukács, traditional Marxist accounts of class consciousness, which posited a straightforward connection between the material basis of production and the self-consciousness of the proletariat, were overly optimistic, insufficient, and deeply mistaken. How was it that people could fail to recognize their own material interests and be convinced to act against them? And what was to be done about it? Dismissing simple economic determinism, Lukács recovered and developed Marx’s notions of alienation, false-consciousness, and ideology to argue that, rather than developing inevitably from material conditions, socialist revolution in fact requires conscious intervention—i.e., a Leninist vanguard party. But, how convincing is Lukács’ account of the nature and phenomenology of capitalism, the formation of class consciousness, and the necessity of the party as the key agent of revolution? How can we understand the process of socialist revolution, both in its historical instances and, in the 21st century, as a theoretical possibility?
In this course, we will read all of History and Class Consciousness as well as other texts from the same period including excerpts from Tactics and Ethics, Lukács’s unpublished 1925 A Defense of History and Class Consciousness, and his 1924 study of Lenin. We’ll examine closely key elements of Lukács theory: his understanding of Hegelian dialectics as core to Marxist theory, his use of notions of “reification” and alienation, his critique of ideology, and his account of the intersection of theory and practice (that is, praxis). We will ask: how can we understand the relation between material conditions and class consciousness? Why do classes sometimes act counter to their apparent material interest? How does capitalism work to “objectify” existence, to make capitalist life appear natural and law-like—and what does it mean for any attempt to overturn it? How can we understand History and Class Consciousness today, when capitalism appears both absolutely triumphant and deeply vulnerable?
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
June 10 — July 01, 2021