Lukács and “tailism”

Submitted by AWL on 9 October, 2019 - 9:19 Author: Martin Thomas

John Cunningham, in Solidarity 519, gives a generous assessment of my comments on Gyorgy Lukács.

I want to come back on three points.

I would guess, if only from his alignment with the reforming Nagy administration in 1956, that Lukács always had inner reservations about Stalinism.

So did many of the Bolsheviks who capitulated to Stalinism. Through most of the 1930s the exile Mensheviks and Trotskyists had sporadic contacts with people who were deeply embedded in the Stalinist machine and yet talked in confidence of their horror at Stalin’s course.

The combination is what made them — and Lukács — capitulators, rather than unreserved Stalinists.

With many of them, as with Lukács, the capitulation was a gradual process.

Many secondary sources say that Lukács disavowed HCC after Zinoviev denounced it at the Fifth Congress of the Communist International in 1924. John asks: did he, in fact?

A fair question. I can’t name a text by Lukács where he made that disavowal (other than his supposed defence of HCC in 1925: see below). Possibly the story that he disavowed it is one of those “historical facts” which becomes “fact” simply by repeated copying from some slipshod original claim.

As John notes, HCC had a succès d’estime in 1923. We should also note that this did not reverberate far until after Lukács had established an independent political profile again in 1956.

Although Lukács was at the Marxist week school which led to the formation of the Frankfurt School of academic Marxism and the Institute which housed it, I can’t detect any real resonances from Lukács in the Frankfurt School, other than what could be explained by shared references to Weber, to Dilthey, and to Hegel.

Karl Korsch, whose Marxism and Philosophy was denounced alongside HCC by Zinoviev at the Fifth Congress (and who did not disavow his work, yet remained prominent in the German CP until May 1926, when he was expelled on a political issue), never tried to build on Lukács.

Lukács’s unfinished typescript of (probably) 1925, found in the archives in the 1990s and published as Tailism the Dialectic, does not strengthen his standing as a source of political philosophy.

Lukács started Tailism by remonstrating that it was “certainly not [his] intention to defend the book [HCC] itself”, which had “many things... needful of correction”.

Yet in Tailism he specified no “correction”. The disavowal (or refusal to defend) was simply a tactic to shorten the length of the front he had to defend.

He made no reply to Zinoviev’s condemnation. On the contrary, he oiled his text by quoting Zinoviev, Stalin, and Bukharin as “authorities” for commonplace ideas used in it. He polemicised only against László Rudas, an old antagonist from within the Hungarian Communist Party now resettled in Moscow, and Abram Deborin, a former Menshevik who now competed for leadership in academic philosophy in the USSR with another former Menshevik, Lyubov Axelrod.

That was not very daring, especially when Lukács only sent a typescript to Moscow. He did not publish the text in Germany (as he could have done).

Despite the “Bolshevisation” drive of the Communist International in 1924 proclaiming the aim of “monolithic” parties, it took some time to make that reality.

1925 was a year of flux. The “Bolshevising” Fischer-Maslow leadership of the German Communist Party made a marked (and justified) “right turn”, and then Fischer was removed by inviting her to Moscow and refusing her permission to return for ten months. In the USSR, the previously united group of Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Stalin broke apart in late 1925. Zinoviev and Kamenev moved towards a public alliance with Trotsky against Stalin (from July 1926).

Quite possibly Lukács guessed that Deborin and Rudas might find themselves on the out, and so (as long as he was careful “not to defend the book itself”) he could slam them and retain or even gain favour.

On the detailed content of Tailism, I hesitate to say much, since I have not read the writings by Deborin and Rudas to which it replied. Some of the later passages in it about the relation between Hegel and Kant may repay study.

But if Deborin and Rudas really said what Lukács presents them as saying — that social evolution is only a reflection of changes in technology, and so on — then refuting them adds nothing to the store of knowledge.

In Tailism as elsewhere, Lukács claimed to “demonstrate methodologically that the organisation and tactics of Bolshevism are the only possible consequence of Marxism”. That all else was “Menshevism” or at best what he caricatured as “Luxemburg’s theory of spontaneity”.

“Bolshevism”, written without comment in a text of 1925, meant Zinovievite “Bolshevisation-Bolshevism”, a scheme in which, as long as the party had the “right method” (“the dialectic”), it would always be proven “methodologically” to have “true class consciousness”, as against the Mensheviks, Luxemburgists, and Trotskyists with the wrong “method”.

That way of thinking cannot instruct us today.

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