Study Guide

György Lukács Biography

Basic Information

Name

György Lukács, born György Bernát Löwinger —Dad changed the family name from a Jewish one to a Hungarian one. If you ever see the name Lukács György, that's me, too; in Hungarian (as in Japanese, Korean, or Chinese), the last name comes first, so you might see it either way.

Nickname

Georgie Pordgie, That Marxist Guy, The Flip Flopper, Luke the Duke

Sex

Male

Home town

Budapest, Hungary. Mom and Dad had big bucks, so we lived pretty well. Plus, Dad was a baron, so I inherited his baronial title. That's how we rolled. Did I mention I was a Marxist?

Work & Education

Occupation

I pumped out articles on literary and aesthetic theory at a staggering rate and even founded A Szellem (The Spirit), an avant-garde journal. That little project didn't last long, partly because I wasn't too keen on avant-garde aesthetics.

The bad news is that I failed to earn the Habilitation (something like a Ph.D)—but I didn't let my lack of a day job get in the way of my massively prolific writing career. Nope: I went on, full steam ahead, to crank out now-classic works such as The Theory of the Novel.

On top of that, my membership in the Hungarian Communist Party, which I joined in 1918, was like a full-time job. Being a leading intellectual is no nine-to-five gig; people expect you to be smart and revolutionary 24/7.

The good news is that all of this political commitment yielded some "real" work, such as securing me positions as Commissar of Public Education and, later, Political Commissar in the Hungarian Red Army. (We're talking hardcore.) I held several other government positions and finally became a professor in Budapest.

(Oh, I was also arrested now and then, either for being too Marxist or not Marxist enough.)

My last employer was the Hungarian government, which I served as Minister of Education. My turbulent political commitments made jobs—and life—a bit of a challenge, but I (pretty much) never backed down.

Education

I attended school in Berlin and Budapest, but you didn't have to twist my arm. I always loved learning and was a voracious reader of Marx, Kierkegaard, and Max Weber. I picked up a Ph.D in Political Science at the University of Kolozsvár (these days, it's in Romania, and it's called Cluj-Napoca) in 1906 and a doctorate from University of Budapest three years later. Fun fact: my dissertation was on modern drama.

I also studied for a spell at Moscow's very own Marx-Engels Institute and later at the Institute of Philosophy. I did more than hunker down in the stacks, though: I circulated with some of the period's most aggressive Socialist fist-pumpers, and with German and Hungarian intellectual heavy hitters. Never a dull moment with me, right?

Beliefs

Political views

Don't make any plans, cause this one's gonna take a while.

It all started in 1918—my long love affair with the Communist Party, that is. It was love at first sight, and I stuck with it through terrors, purges, executions, exiles, prison time, deportation, and attacks against me from all sides. But I'm getting ahead of myself…

Back in 1918, I had a creeping sense of doubt about dictators and terror—it's hard not to be suspicious about that kind of thing. The Russian Revolution was raging, and let's just say I caught the fire. I composed an essay called "Bolshevism as a Moral Problem," which gives some indication that my love wasn't exactly unconditional.

As a newly minted member of the Hungarian Communist Party, I held the thoroughly esoteric-sounding position of commissar and even oversaw the execution of a few political naysayers. Don't mess. Life as a Left communist wasn't easy, what with the radically shifting political scene in Hungary and the rise and fall of so many governments. I never knew day to day if I was in or out.

I started to embrace Leninism, a form of communism influenced by the ideas of the late great revolutionary Vladimir Lenin. He added his own spin to the already hot-and-heavy Marxist movement going on: he criticized imperialism (capitalists gone crazy) and put it out there that the workers needed to form a vanguard party and lead the way to a communist future.

My writings, most famously History and Class Consciousness, gave Marxists some philosophical cred and got down and dirty about the class struggle.

Until my death, I had a fluctuating commitment to Marxism and the Hungarian government. Sometimes, I was really on the outs—like when I faced expulsion from the Party for not toeing the Party line, or when I was exiled, or when I avoided execution by the skin of my teeth, or when new governments seized power and deported me. Don't even get me started on the Stalinist purges.

As my sideburns greyed, I began to question all of my early eager commitments to Marxism, and I especially had to sort out my unpleasant association with Stalinism. I came to see that Stalinism—with its aggressive propaganda, its secret police, and its reign of terror—was so tyrannical that it was hardly even Communism anymore.

People have their suspicions, but I was never a straight-up Stalinist. Sure, I pretended to support some of Stalin's ideas, but back then, you pretty much had to if you wanted to save your hide. After the war, when Nikita Khrushchev started to talk about just how evil Stalin had been, I put some serious ideological distance between that mustachioed homicidal despot and myself.

Religious views

First, you need to know Marxism and religion are about as compatible as siblings on a long road trip. Second, by way of response, I will quote myself: "The so-called religious faith is nothing more than the certitude that regardless of all temporary defeats and setbacks, the historical process will come to fruition in our deeds and through our deeds" (source).

What I mean here is that we do not need religion in order to have hope. What we must do is make a commitment to making historical change happen. This will not come about through faith but through our work—and our "deeds."

That said, my father was a Jewish banker, and most of my best friends in my teen years were Jewish middle-class intellectuals.

Activities & Interests

Likes

The Proletariat
History
Realism
Western Communist Parties
Narrative and Flow
Dostoevsky's novels
Salami Tactics
Hungary
Class Consciousness
Dialectics

Dislikes

Reification
Alienation
Capitalism
Narrow mindedness
Industry
The modern world
Stalin
False dichotomies
Modernism
Ideology

Interests

Social conditions
Distancing myself from Stalinism
Writing powerful critical works and then retracting them for various opportunistic reasons
Hiding my noble lineage (my bad)
Revolutionizing
Hanging with the era's smartest folks
Being exiled, then invited back, then re-exiled
Filling certain powerful positions in the Communist Party
Surviving purges, terrors, and trials
Defending my right to change my mind—or not

Groups

Communist Party of Hungary
The Sunday Circle
The Anti-Modernists
The Realists
The Western Marxist Philosophers Supper Club
Aestheticists for Realism
Austro-Hungarian Nobility Support Group
Budapestians Against Idealism
Great Purge Dodgers

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...