Originally published in the 1930s, these essays on realism, expressionism, and modernism in literature present Lukács's side of the controversy among Marxist writers and critics now known as the Lukács-Brecht debate. The book also includes an exchange of letters between Lukács, writing in exile in the Soviet Union, and the German Communist novelist, Anna Seghers, in which they discuss realism, the European literary heritage, and the situation of the artist in capitalist culture.
Using the technique of prepared questions, Conversations with Lukács is a brilliant gathering of thoughts and insights covering topics as ontology, the techniques of manipulative societies, the pitfalls of combating Stalinism with Stalinist methods, and the problems of intellectuals in advanced capitalist societies. Above all, there is the restatement of Lukács's unshaken conviction that the working class, with all the changes that have occurred in its way of life and composition, is still the historical carrier of social transformation.
Lukács's interlocutors in these four conversations are Hans Heinz Holz, Leo Kofler, and Wolfgang Abendroth. Each of them engages Lukács in separate dialogues, on being and consciousness (Holz), on society and the individual (Kofler), and on the elements of scientific politics (Abendroth). Lukács, Abendroth, and Holz work toward a "Provisional Summary" in the last conversation.
The interlocutors and the editor write that "These conversations show very clearly the basis of abstraction in the experiences of everyday life.... This gives these conversations with Lukács a more than anecdotal value; for the unmediated way in which thought is produced in conversation corresponds exactly to that primary level of experience, the data of everyday reality, whose theoretical value Lukacs emphasizes.... They aspire to bear witness to the living thought of one of the great men of our century, and to provide the opportunity to approach this thought by the simplest possible route."
"If we are to understand not only the direct impact of Marx on the development of German thought but also his sometimes extremely indirect influence, an exact knowledge of Hegel, of both his greatness and his limitation, is absolutely indispensable."- from the preface.
It is well known that Hegel exerted a major influence on the development of Marx's thought. This circumstance led Lukács, one of the chief Marxist theoreticians of this century, to embark on his exploration of Hegelian antecedents in the German intellectual tradition, their concrete expression in the work of Hegel himself, and later syntheses of seemingly contradictory modes of though. Four phases of Hegel's intellectual development are examined: "Hegel's early republican phase," "the crisis in Hegel's views on society and the earliest beginnings of his dialectical method," "rationale and defense of objective idealism," and "the breach with Schelling and The Phenomenology of Mind."
Lukács completed this study in 1938, but because of the imminent outbreak of war, it was not published until the late 1940s. A revised German edition appeared in 1954, and it is this text that is the basis of this first English translation of the work.
Georg Lukács wrote The Theory of the Novel in 1914-1915, a period that also saw the conception of Rosa Luxemburg's Spartacus Letters, Lenin's Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Spengler's Decline of the West, and Ernst Bloch's Spirit of Utopia. Like many of Lukács's early essays, it is a radical critique of bourgeois culture and stems from a specific Central European philosophy of life and tradition of dialectical idealism whose originators include Kant, Hegel, Novalis, Marx, Kierkegaard, Simmel, Weber, and Husserl.The Theory of the Novel marks the transition of the Hungarian philosopher from Kant to Hegel and was Lukács's last great work before he turned to Marxism-Leninism.
"The actuality of the revolution: this is the core of Lenin's thought and his decisive link with Marx."
This essay on Lenin, which appeared in 1924, was intended to head off the massive criticism leveled at Lukács History and Class Consciousness by Communist Party leadership. It was a period in which Lukács was decisively influenced by Lenin and by Rosa Luxemburg, and his intellectual development proceeded concretely toward a political (Marxist-Leninist) interpretation of history and of literature.
In a postscript (1967) Lukács remains essentially unchanged in his view of Lenin as a practitioner whose theoretical superiority lay in his ability to assess the sociohistorical uniqueness of any given situation that required action. Looking back, Lukács regards the book as a document of the mid-twenties—of how a number of Marxists of the period saw Lenin's personality and mission and his place in world events. Ideas in the book were determined by the concepts of the period, its prejudices, illusions, and extravagances. Nevertheless, the book established certain spiritual verities in perceiving Lenin as the active-practical sage who had a skillful tactical grasp of realpolitik which was neither empirical nor dogmatic but the culmination of a theoretical attitude. "His life was one of permanent action, of continuous struggle in a world in which he was profoundly convinced that there was no situation without a solution, for himself or his opponents. The leitmotiv of his life was accordingly: always be armed ready for action—for correct action." Lukács further notes that an essential dimension of Lenin's activism was unceasingly self-education and constant openness to the lessons of experience.
Lukács also emphasizes a number of points in the book that remain methodologically valid, including criticisms of Lenin's behavior which were implicit and accurate critiques of Stalin's later development and the increasing bureaucratization and mechanization of the party.
Georg Lukács's most recent work of literary criticism, on the Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn, hails the Russian author as a major force in redirecting socialist realism toward the level it once occupied in the 1920s when Soviet writers portrayed the turbulent transition to socialist society.
In the first essay Lukács compares the novella One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich to short pieces by "bourgeois" writers Conrad and Hemingway and explains the nature of Solzhenitsyn's criticism of the Stalinist period implied in the situation, characters, and their interaction. He also briefly describes Matriona's House, An Incident at the Kretchetovka Station, and For the Good of the Cause—stories that depict various aspects of life in Stalinist Russia.
In the second, longer section, Lukács greets Solzhenitsyn's novels The First Circle and Cancer Ward, which were published outside Russia, as representing "a new high point in contemporary world literature." These books mark Solzhenitsyn as heir to the best tendencies in postrevolutionary socialist realism and to the literary tradition of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Moreover, from the point of view of the development of the novel, Lukacs finds the Russian author to be a successful exponent of innovative methods originating in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain.
The central problem of contemporary socialist realism is a predominant theme in the book: how to come to critical terms with the legacy of Stalin. The enthusiasm with which Lukács acclaims Solzhenitsyn will not surprise those who have followed his persistent refusal to endorse the so-called socialist realist writers of the Stalinist era. He outlines the aspects of Solzhenitsyn's creative method that allows him to cross the ideological boudaries of the Stalinist tradition, yet he finds a basic pessimism in Solzhenitsyn's work that makes him a "plebeian" rather than a socialist writer.
Of Ivan Denisovich and the future of socialist realist literature, Lukács urges: "If socialist writers were to reflect upon their task, if they were again to feel an artistic responsibiliity towards the great problems of the present, powerful forces could be unleashed leading in the direction of relevant socialist literature. In this process of transformation and renewal, which signifies an abrupt departure from the socialist realism of the Stalin era, the role of landmark on the road to the future falls to Solzhenitsyn's story."
This is the first time one of the most important of Lukács' early theoretical writings, published in Germany in 1923, has been made available in English. The book consists of a series of essays treating, among other topics, the definition of orthodox Marxism, the question of legality and illegality, Rosa Luxemburg as a Marxist, the changing function of Historic Marxism, class consciousness, and the substantiation and consciousness of the Proletariat. Writing in 1968, on the occasion of the appearance of his collected works, Lukács evaluated the influence of this book as follows: "For the historical effect of History and Class Consciousness and also for the actuality of the present time one problem is of decisive importance: alienation, which is here treated for the first time since Marx as the central question of a revolutionary critique of capitalism, and whose historical as well as methodological origins are deeply rooted in Hegelian dialectic. It goes without saying that the problem was omnipresent. A few years after History and Class Consciousness was published, it was moved into the focus of philosophical discussion by Heidegger in his Being and Time, a place which it maintains to this day largely as a result of the position occupied by Sartre and his followers. The philologic question raised by L. Goldmann, who considered Heidegger's work partly as a polemic reply to my (admittedly unnamed) work, need not be discussed here. It suffices today to say that the problem was in the air, particularly if we analyze its background in detail in order to clarify its effect, the mixture of Marxist and Existentialist thought processes, which prevailed especially in France immediately after the Second World War. In this connection priorities, influences, and so on are not particularly significant. What is important is that the alienation of man was recognized and appreciated as the central problem of the time in which we live, by bourgeois as well as proletarian, by politically rightist and leftist thinkers. Thus, History and Class Consciousness exerted a profound effect in the circles of the youthful intelligentsia."