Georg Lukacs stands as a dominant figure in twentieth-century Marxism. The publication of his History and Class Consciousness and Karl Korsch Marxism and Philosophy in 1923 marked the first serious efforts to rethink Marxism…
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Georg Lukacs stands as a dominant figure in twentieth-century Marxism. The publication of his History and Class Consciousness and Karl Korsch Marxism and Philosophy in 1923 marked the first serious efforts to rethink Marxism Both Lukacs and Korsch were responding to the inability of the orthodox viewpoint to account for either the unexpected survival of the Russian Revolution or the progressive dissolution of revolutionary working-class movements in Europe. Their efforts led them to examine the origins of Marx's thought and to revitalize and reemphasize aspects of his work which had previously been underplayed or ignored. Their work gave rise to what later would be labeled "Western Marxism." This variant of Marxist thought is characterized by its interest in the early Marx and in the philosophical (especially Hegelian) roots of Marxism; by its focus on Marx as opposed to Engels; and by its stress on consciousness, culture, and subjectivity science, economics, and nature. It is within Western Marxism, of course, that Critical Theory is situated. And Lukacs's work would particularly influence the critical theorists. Lukacs is also a controversial figure in twentieth-century Marxism. The contributions and contradictions of his work, as well as his reassessments and repudiations of it, have been the subject of a great deal of debate and discussion.19 My interest here, however, is not in his work as a whole, but rather in his treatment of the proletariat as the revolutionary subject. His effort to address the issue of the proletariat's self-conscious agency effectively created more problems than it solved. At the same time that he insisted upon the identification of the proletariat as the revolutionary subject, he detailed the socioeconomic conditions that precluded its ability to fulfill its world-historical mission. It is the development of this dilemma in Lukacs's work that interests us here. In History and Class Consciousness, Lukacs speaks of the proletariat as the "identical subject-object," "the subject of action," "the 'we' of the genesis." Although he would later label his treatment of the proletariat as an "attempt to -17- Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com Publication Information: Book Title: Critical Theory and Political Possibilities: Conceptions of Emancipatory Politics in the Works of Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, and Habermas. Contributors: Joan Alway - author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of Publication: Westport, CT. Publication Year: 1995. Page Number: 17. out-Hegel Hegel," 20 he held firm to his conviction that the proletariat was the historical subject whose actions would bring about the revolution. Lukacs followed Marx in believing that it was the position of the proletariat in the capitalist mode of production that conferred upon it its unique status. Within a system based on the production and exchange of commodities, workers were both commodities and the producers of commodities. The fact that they, and they alone, were in a position to recognize themselves as both the subject and the object of the production process, and thus of the historical process, meant that the proletariat was capable of gaining unique insight into historical truth. For Lukacs the proletariat is the first truly universal class: for the first time in history, there existed a class whose self-understanding was the understanding of society as a whole, whose fate was the fate of society as a whole. In the proletariat subjective awareness and objective knowledge coincided. Lukacs insists that subjective awareness is not an automatic consequence of objective position. He argues that while objective position and conditions "give the proletariat the opportunity and the necessity to change society," social transformation will result only from their "free" action. 21 And this free action will be a function of the prolet
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