History And Class Consciousness At 100
A roundtable celebrating the centenary and contemporary force of Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness
May 1, 2023
IT IS NOW ONE HUNDRED YEARS since the great Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukács published History and Class Consciousness (1923). The text, a collection of essays, is widely recognized as one of the most important works of Marxist theory in the twentieth century. After the success of the Bolshevik revolution, Lukács felt himself compelled to take steps beyond his earlier romantic and tragic thinking and became a committed communist. The essays in the book span Lukács’s 1919 investigation of “Orthodox Marxism,” through his 1922 reflections on Rosa Luxemburg and revolutionary organization.
According to Lukács, who himself served as People’s Commissar for Education and Culture in the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919, these collected essays largely arose “out of actual work for the party, to clarify the theoretical problems of the revolutionary movement.” They are extraordinary not only for the theoretical depth and insight, but also as models of practically engaged philosophical work.
The largest exception to this general claim (an exception Lukács himself also acknowledged) was the more theoretical but no less revolutionary philosophy of the proletariat that Lukács offered in the central, most important, and latest (1923) addition to the collection of essays. This is his famous essay “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat.” In the following roundtable we invite you to join Spectre in celebrating the centenary of the publication of History and Class Consciousness as a whole, and the “Reification” essay in particular. This is because Lukács’s ideas in this essay remain deeply relevant, perhaps even more so now that the revolutionary tide in which they were formulated has receded.
We now have the space to think carefully about central Marxist problems such as the rationalization of capitalist society; the alienation it produces; how to think about the social standpoint, not only of the proletariat in general, but also of the marginalized positions within it; the thorny issue of “reification” itself; and the practical question of how to be politically engaged historical materialists today. Indeed, the authors contributing to this Spectre roundtable help us do precisely that.
In the contributions below, Ivanova points to the possible realization of a truly rational society beyond the utterly irrational organization and actualization of production under capital.
Teixeira shows how feminists, working with the model of Lukács’s “standpoint of the proletariat,” can avoid naturalistic pitfalls while specifying radical standpoints. In pursuing communism as historical materialists, López argues we need to avoid fetishizing prior Marxist orthodoxies. Kavoulakos reminds us that, as communists, we need to be careful not to conflate objectification, which all social organizations rest upon, with the reification peculiar to capitalism. Finally, Terezakis tracks Lukács’s own relation to his classic text and shows why instead of ceding fertile ground for radicalization to the Right, Marxists today would do well to center both deepening alienation and the critique of the state.
It is the case today that, armed with revolutionary theory, in no small part flowing from Lukács himself, the Left is better equipped with the tools to organize, struggle, and win.
A Totality Ruled by Chance: Lukács’s Critique of Capitalist Social Order
Although not always canonized in the handbooks on the history of social sciences, History and Class Consciousness (HCC) has left a profound legacy that still echoes today. Sometimes beneath the surface, other times more explicitly—in projects aspiring to revive his theory—Georg Lukács’s presence insinuates itself into discussions on alienation, reification, exploitation, ideology, class consciousness, and collective (revolutionary) action. One hundred years after the publication of HCC, his engagement with these themes still provides material for the thought needed to tackle issues of critical social importance today.
Part of this legacy and one of the grounding stones of critical theory is Lukács’s distinctive and controversial marriage between, on one hand, the Marxist analysis of capitalism and, on the other, Weber’s theory on rationalization. Lukács provided an insightful observation and critical analysis of the rationality in capitalism that still exhibits great explanatory power in the current context. Andrew Feenberg describes Lukács’s argument quite clearly: “the increasing rationality of the parts is tied, he claims, to the invincible ‘irrationality of the total process,’ to economic crisis and violent resistance from below.”1Andrew Feenberg, The Philosophy of Praxis: Marx, Lukács, and the Frankfurt School, revised ed. (Brooklyn: Verso, 2014), 77.
In HCC, Lukács developed a line of reasoning that points to this crucial ambiguity in the functioning of capitalism, which is also, at the same time, a powerful resource for its critique. On the one hand, capitalism brings with itself and is deeply dependent on (formal) rationalization, understood as fragmentation, calculability of outcomes and measures, predictability, and ever-growing efficiency. This rationalization relates not only to the profit-making activities of companies, but also to all the institutions which, though they do not generate profits, enable the smooth running of capitalism. On the other hand, this form of sectoral and scattered rationalization breeds unpredictability, incomprehensibility, and crises on a societal level.
For Lukács, the rationalization strategies of single capitalists and the irrationality of the market they collectively, though unintentionally, constitute coexist symbiotically. On the production side, rationalization makes labor abstract, comparable, and measurable “according to the time socially necessary for its accomplishment.”2Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1971), 87. It allows capital owners to arrange the labor process most profitably and efficiently in a competitive environment. Rationalization aims to predict “all results to be achieved,” and thus proceeds through fragmentation and measurement of concrete labor.3Ibid., 88.
On the exchange side, the market operates through a “capitalist process of rationalization based on private economic calculation.”4Ibid., 102. With the help of rationalization techniques, capitalists aim to make the market dynamics measurable and calculable: the market “must be calculable according to the laws of probability.”5Ibid. This calculability allows capitalists and others to develop and implement production, distribution, and market strategies not so as to rationalize markets themselves, but to attempt rational participation in them.
For the capitalist, growing commodification means “an increase in the quantity of objects for him to deal with in his calculations and speculations.”6Ibid., 171. Capitalists need rationalization in order to be able to act intelligently in a reality characterized by the anarchy of the market. In this sense, and in contrast with Weber, rationalization is not an independent socio-cultural process that finds its expression in different realms of society.7Arthur Bueno and Mariana Teixeira, “Spectres of Reification: Weber and Simmel on History and Class Consciousness,” Journal of Classical Sociology 17, no. 2 (May 2017): 101–15. The rationalization strategies of the capitalist and agents within capital-dominated societies are needed precisely because of the irrationality of the whole.
Yet no matter how hard capitalists try, the market can never be completely controlled or predicted. This essential unpredictability is a state of affairs that affects not only the individual capitalist but society as a whole. The market cannot be rationalized entirely, as doing so would entail absolute monopoly powers, powers that would themselves entail an eradication of the market as a competitive institution. The laws “must not under any circumstances be rationally organized through and through.”8Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 102.
Thus, the market’s very existence presupposes a certain level of indeterminacy produced by competitive forces and demand, which as a whole yield its inner laws. As David Plotke explains, for Lukács, the capitalist process of rationalization “results in a basic unpredictability, rather than leading to the progressive domination of calculability as a principle of operation of more and more areas of society.”9David Plotke, “Marxism, Sociology and Crisis: Lukács’ Critique of Weber,” Berkeley Journal of Sociology 20 (2023): 208. In this sense, Lukács writes that “the capitalist process of rationalization based on private economic calculation … presupposes … produces and reproduces” a society in which the totality is “ruled by chance” and the details are a subject of laws.10Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 102.
However, it is not so much this unpredictability in itself that makes capitalism irrational. It is, first and foremost, the inefficiency inherent in the crisis-driven nature of capitalism. Of course, Lukács railed against the unavoidable crises of capitalism again and again in HCC. Worse, the indeterminacy contradicts the very principle at the heart of rationality—it makes it impossible to confidently decide on means to achieve specific desired outcomes. Instead, unintentional social outcomes like a sudden scarcity of valuable resources or totally unforeseen financial recessions just happen.
In this sense, the rationality in capitalism is at most one-sided and confined to purposes aiming at expanding capital and generating profit. The submission of social life to unregulated and capital-determined economic outcomes denies anything like collective rational planning and organization. This is at the heart of what Lukács grasped as reification. Michael Löwy’s definition is instructive here: reification describes “man’s subjection to a world of things (commodities) governed by ‘natural’ laws independent of the human will.”11Michael Löwy, Georg Lukács: From Romanticism to Bolshevism, Patrick Camiller (London: NLB, 1979), 179.
Contemporary capitalism continues following the same trajectory that Lukács mapped out one hundred years ago. Digital technologies have revolutionized the means of prediction and calculation. Predictive algorithms are utilized in various areas from shift planning and predictive scheduling in food service, retail, and hospitality sectors to the management of global supply chains.
In manufacturing, the Internet of Things collects data about production, maintenance, quality, and utilization and uses this vast trove of information to refine business processes. Predictive analytics aims to foresee customer demand and future market trends. With automated credit scoring and underwriting systems that promise to reduce risks and thus boost profits, big data and AI have changed the normal approach to financial risk management. Social media algorithms learn how to make us spend more time on their platforms and ultimately consume more advertisements.
These are just scattered, tip-of-the-iceberg depictions of a colossal digital change. The last several decades have seen a surge in the attempt to digitally rationalize all areas in the economy so that the production and realization of value can be organized in increasingly cost effective, predictable ways.
Still, the accumulated effect of this one-sided rationality produces a crisis-prone, inefficient, and unpredictable economic landscape. The financial crisis of 2008 has been a prominent example of how financial institutions’ individual “rational” strategies resulted in global economic collapse.12John Cassidy, “Rational Irrationality: The Real Reason that Capitalism is So Crash-Prone,” The New Yorker, September 28, 2009. On the housing market, there is a shortage of affordable housing leading to precarious living situations for many in Europe and anywhere capital has attempted to “rationalize” housing. At the same time, capital invests in properties and builds houses for which there is often little or no demand.
And housing is far from the only domain where the same dynamic is at play. The pursuit of profit in a competitive environment results not only in the waste of resources but in extraordinary levels of environmental pollution. Competitive industrial agriculture with a one-sided focus on profit ends up overexploiting natural resources and fails to deliver on the long-since developed capacity to provide adequate nutrition across the globe.
Technological rationalization in the world of work does not lead to workers working fewer hours, but to a labor-intensive work process and intensified exploitation—as research on manufacturing and delivery logistics has so aptly demonstrated.13Simon Schaupp, “Cybernetic Proletarianization: Spirals of Devaluation and Conflict in Digitalized Production,” Capital & Class 46, no. 1 (March 1, 2022): 11–31. Making healthcare a commodity does not make it more efficient or of higher quality, but deteriorates health services due to understaffing, overwork, and low pay. As a striking healthcare worker in a privatized hospital in Germany said: “It is not the strike, rather the normal state of affairs that endangers the patients.”14Marianne Arens, “Striking Health Care Workers in Germany: ‘Privatization Was a Big Mistake,’” World Socialist Website, September 22, 2022.
It is a chronic absurdity existing on a societal level that has its inevitable impact on the individual consciousness: how can it be that means of rationalization are so advanced, and yet the capacity to understand and collectively determine a truly beneficial social path of action seems so much out of our hands? Even if not often formulated in these terms, we carry the contradiction Lukács described so well in our daily lives as the future is often portrayed as something that will come and happen to us—whether it is a techno- utopian future drawn by the ideologists of global technological companies or the next financial recession.
One of the great enduring legacies of HCC, then, is the way Lukács analytically ties rationalization to its real ground in the irrational dynamics of capital and its imperative to valorize. If we follow his line of reasoning, it becomes clear that achieving a truly rational society would require nothing less than democratic control over the economic fabric of the society and social ownership of the means of production.
Mirela Ivanova is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Sociology, University of Basel. She is researching the digital transformation in the world of work. Her interests lie in alienation and reification theories, sociology of work, and digital capitalism.
Lukács, Feminism, and the Revolutionary Standpoint Today
Mariana Teixeira15For an expanded version of the argument presented here, see Mariana Teixeira, “The Revolutionary Subject in Lukács and Feminist Standpoint Theory: Dilaceration and Emancipatory Interest,” in Confronting Reification: Revitalizing Georg Lukács’s Thought in Late Capitalism, Gregory R. Smulewicz-Zucker, ed. (Leiden: Brill, 2020).
Since its first publication one century ago, Georg Lukács’s book History and Class Consciousness exerted great influence on many different areas of social and practical philosophy—suffice it to mention such broad theoretical strands as “critical theory” or “Western Marxism.”16Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge: The MIT Press), 1971. Although the struggle for women’s liberation is not commonly associated with it, the affinity between the project of feminist standpoint theory and Lukács’s Marxism is remarkable.
The idea that the proletariat might achieve a distinctive and potentially privileged standpoint that allows—and even compels—it to grasp capitalist society in its totality has a parallel in feminist standpoint theories that hold that women might also attain a privileged perspective on the dynamics of gender relations in patriarchal societies. Since then, this insight has been further broadened and reverberates today in debates about situated knowledges, intersectionality, Southern perspectives, ecofeminism, and theories of epistemic injustice, epistemic ignorance, and epistemic resistance.
While sometimes alluded to, the affinity between Lukács’s conception of the “standpoint of the proletariat” and feminist standpoint theories is, however, rarely further developed and problematized. The unspoken assumption seems to be that the latter simply dislocated Lukács’s theoretical framework from a class-centered perspective and applied it to a gender-centered one. In reality, however, feminist standpoint theories are far from monolithic, and their relation to Marxism is more complex. In order to refine this debate, I will address two versions of feminist standpoint theory, exploring what they draw on and what they leave behind in Lukács’s accounts of the “revolutionary standpoint.”
Let us start with Nancy Hartsock’s proposal of a feminist historical materialism.17Nancy Hartsock, “The Feminist Standpoint: Developing the Ground for a Specifically Feminist Historical Materialism,” Discovering Reality, Sandra Harding and Merrill B. Hintikka, eds. (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1983), 283–310. For Hartsock, both feminist and Marxist standpoint theories hold that differences in material life structures how we understand social relations. This structuring works in such a way that the vision available to the rulers will be partial and perverse, while, inversely, the lives of the oppressed make available a particular and privileged vantage point to see the entire system of domination. This possible revolutionary standpoint is not immediately given, but rather an achievement and a result of overcoming the dominant vision of the world.
Like Lukács, Hartsock criticizes the quantification of things and people, the abstraction of their concrete qualities, and the over-instrumentalization in one’s relationships to objects and other subjects. In her view, the feminist take on the world is similar to the class consciousness of the proletariat because both are more closely connected to the material world than are the masculinist and the capitalist views: “Women and workers inhabit a world in which the emphasis is on change rather than stasis, a world characterized by interaction with natural substances rather than separation from nature, a world in which quality is more important than quantity.”18Ibid., 290. This concreteness allows for a non-reified perspective: the productive and reproductive activities of both women and workers engenders a sort of unification of mind and body because of their practical, material character.
According to Hartsock, however, close as the experience of workers and women might be, women make a double contribution to capitalism: they produce both commodities and human beings. Hence, for Hartsock, the feminist standpoint goes deeper than the merely proletarian standpoint: “the female experience in bearing and rearing children involves a unity of mind and body more profound than is possible in the worker’s instrumental activity.”19Ibid., 294. Hartsock’s argument seems to be that women’s consciousness and experience are not reified and avoid the antinomies of masculinist thought. Emancipation then would be a matter of restructuring the whole of society on the basis of women’s material activities. Doing so would move us towards “a fully human community, a community structured by connection rather than separation and opposition.”20Ibid., 305.
Hartsock’s characterization of women’s experience is problematic not only because it excludes groups of people from her analysis (especially trans women), but also because it places women outside history: women’s activities are conceived as a sort of natural, precapitalist remainder within a capitalist society. Her emphasis on natural, organic processes bears resemblance to a sort of anticapitalism with romantic undertones and potentially reactionary implications. Furthermore, taking women’s everyday experience as non-reified makes it difficult for Hartsock to address the kind of negative experiences constitutive of their practices that compel women to grasp and struggle against them. Lukács’s account of reification and class consciousness offers some valuable insights that can help improve this problematic view.
As a historical phenomenon, reification appears for Lukács when capitalism turns the exchange of commodities into the form par excellence of the metabolism between human beings. The abstraction of human labor is vital in this process, and Lukács’s aim consists precisely in exploring the consequences of this phenomenon, intensified with the increasing rationalization of the division of labor.
For Lukács, the worker who objectifies his labor power into a commodity appears as “a mechanical part incorporated into a mechanical system.”21Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 89. He is torn apart not only from the product of his work and from his own work activities, but also from his community and, ultimately, from and within himself: “this rational mechanization extends right into the worker’s ‘soul’: even his psychological attributes are separated from his total personality and placed in opposition to it.”22Ibid., 88, translation amended by author.
For Lukács, the capitalist does not experience this tearing apart within himself: his reified situation appears not as passivity but as activity; he seems to be the active embodiment of capitalism. This unproblematic position makes it unlikely for him to view social conditions as questionable: “this illusion blinds him to the true state of affairs.”23Ibid., 166. Since unveiling reification would reveal tendencies toward the abolition of capitalism, “for the bourgeoisie to become conscious of them would be tantamount to suicide.”24Ibid., 181. The proletarian, on the other hand, “is denied the scope for such illusory activity” and “perceives the split in his being preserved in the brutal form of what is, in its whole tendency, a slavery without limits.”25Ibid., 166. The standpoint of the proletariat is the standpoint of a split between subject and (commodified) object.
But this very split contains the potential for the proletariat to unveil reification: “the proletariat is confronted by the need to break through this barrier, to overcome it inwardly from the very start by adopting its own point of view.”26Ibid., 164. The proletariat experiences this like it is a matter of life and death—here lies the genesis of the proletariat’s emancipatory interest in overthrowing capitalism. For Lukács, the proletarian’s inner split is therefore a step on the path to a possible new unity. The proletariat does not itself offer a template for a non-reified praxis, quite the opposite, for it “only perfects itself by annihilating and transcending itself.”27Ibid., 80.
Both Hartsock and Lukács stress the necessity of unveiling the processual character of reality from either the feminist viewpoint or the perspective of the proletariat. The most significant difference between them does not lie, however, in the subject (either women or workers) who would be in a privileged position to bring about the unveiling of reification, but rather in why their position is considered to be a distinctive (and in a sense privileged) one.
For Hartsock, the feminist standpoint is privileged because women’s material practices are more connected with organic, natural processes than men’s, resulting in a worldview free from dichotomies. For Lukács, by contrast, the reason for the distinctive standpoint of the proletariat is precisely the fact that reified dichotomies are essentially constitutive of workers’ experience under capitalism.
Let us now turn to another early proposal of feminist standpoint theory, one that is closer to Lukács’s Marxism. I have in mind Dorothy Smith’s radical critique of sociology from women’s perspectives.28Dorothy Smith, “Women’s Perspective as a Radical Critique of Sociology,” Sociological Inquiry 44, no. 1 (1974): 7–13. In her seminal essay, Smith describes the process of conceptual imperialism whereby the requirement of objectivity “lifts the actor out of the immediate local and particular place in which he is in the body.”29Ibid., 9.
With a split between conceptual and more concrete bodily experience, there arises a bifurcation of consciousness that affects those who engage in both kinds of activities—notably women. In addition to that, women “mediate for men the relation between the conceptual mode of action and the actual concrete forms in which it is and must be realized.”30Ibid., 10. The better women perform this mediation, the more they become subjected to the authority of men’s abstract activities, the greater the dichotomy and estrangement between both worlds.
Smith does not suggest that women try to stand outside the conceptual, for one can only know a set of socially constructed practices from within. Only from within the men-dominated world can women experience the dissonance that might make that world problematic. As with Lukács’s proletariat, a feminist approach must transcend the contradiction, rather than simply invert (as Hartsock would have) the poles.
With the notion of bifurcated consciousness, Smith offers a more complex account of women’s standpoint. Women’s experiences are seen in a less romanticized way—not as relating mainly to organic processes purified from dichotomies, but as permeated by acute contradictions which their activity reproduces. Such contradictions are precisely what allows and compels those who experience them to see them and, more than that, to see them as problematic.
For Smith, the direct everyday experience of women is only the starting point that might lead us to problematize the total socio-economic order including the supposed nature, position, and role of “women” themselves. In this sense, the feminist standpoint would be a result, a mediated knowledge, rather than an immediate perspective to be universalized as it currently stands.
Although feminist standpoint theory is often taken as a monolithic endeavor in its interest in the distinctive and potentially emancipatory knowledge produced from a feminist perspective, its representatives actually disagree on how to characterize such a standpoint and why it can be revolutionary. In this regard, on the centennial of History and Class Consciousness, Lukács’s account of the worker’s reifying inner split points to a latent emancipatory interest which still, to this day, offers us resources to counter the idealization of socially subjugated standpoints.
Mariana Teixeira works as a postdoctoral researcher at the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. She is also an associate researcher at the Brazilian Centre for Analysis and Planning in São Paulo, Brazil, and an adjunct editor of Dissonancia: Critical Theory Journal, a publication of the University of Campinas, Brazil. She is co-editor, with Arthur Bueno and David Strecker, of De-Centering Global Sociology: The Peripheral Turn in Social Theory and Research (Routledge, 2022) and has published numerous articles in the fields of feminism, critical theory, and Marxism.
The Marxist Ideology, or History and Class Consciousness after One Hundred Years
Let us assume for the sake of argument that recent research had disproved once and for all every one of Marx’s individual theses. Even if this were to be proved, every serious “orthodox” Marxist would still be able to accept all such modern findings without reservation and hence dismiss all of Marx’s theses in toto—without having to renounce his orthodoxy for a single moment.
—Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness31Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness (Cambridge: MIT Press 1968), 1.
After Marx, every major innovation within Marxist theory has invoked the rhetoric of orthodoxy to announce its arrival. This was also true of History and Class Consciousness (HCC), although the theory Lukács expounded was so radically nonconformist that it earned him the denunciation of the Marxist inquisitors of his day. Consequently, most Marxist orthodoxy has regarded Lukács’s masterpiece as quasi-heretical.
The last few decades, however, have been kinder. For example, just imagine a contemporary reader favourably citing Zinoviev’s denunciation of Lukács—or, for that matter, Adorno’s. Or take the Althusserians. While they still remember the old polemics, they are generally more interested in intelligent discussion than in slaying the humanist Marxist dragon. Indeed, there are probably more sympathetic readers of Lukács in China now than there were opponents of Lukács during the entire twentieth century. And anyway, these days, Marxist orthodoxy is less a Comintern censor and more a silver-haired crank distributing leaflets outside a Democratic Socialists of America meeting.
Consequently, new readers of Lukács will approach him with fewer prejudices or misconceptions than ever. However, my argument is not that Lukácsian Marxism has stood the test of time while other currents have failed. After all, HCC was clearly not a success. It was too Bolshevik for the non-party philosophers and too Hegelian for the Bolsheviks. Lukács inspired few intellectual inheritors, and there has never been a party whose leaders or theorists committed themselves to his version of historical materialism. No subsequent revolution has vindicated his account of the relationship between party and class or his concept of praxis. In short, by every criterion Lukács’s intervention failed.
And yet—at the risk of sounding like a bad Žižek imitation—is it not precisely the failure of HCC that makes it relevant for our times? After all, every tradition within Marxism has failed, but we nevertheless share a conviction that Marxism still offers universal, liberatory answers. Facing this obvious problem requires a return to method—and this is precisely the call that Lukács issued in 1923. The quote with which this essay began continues: “orthodoxy refers exclusively to method. It is the scientific conviction that dialectical materialism is the road to truth and that its methods can be developed, expanded, and deepened only along the lines laid down by its founders.”32Ibid., 1.
Most read these claims as rhetoric or hyperbole, and not without reason. If we uphold historical materialism by virtue of conviction, haven’t we subjectively predetermined the result of our inquiry, rendering it unscientific? If we’re being honest, this is an all too common approach to theory. Knowing in our hearts that Marxism must be true, we seek proofs. Though pursued in earnest, the results of such an inquiry are destined to be subjective, one-sided, and false.
Yet, as Lukács wrote, “it is of the essence of dialectical method that concepts which are false in their abstract one-sidedness are later transcended.”33Ibid., xlvi. This is because “the ‘false’ is an aspect of the ‘true,’” and that insofar as this is the case, “it is both ‘false’ and ‘non-false.’”34Ibid., xlvii. This is to say, if we can uncover the unthought, subjective element underlying our convictions, we can transform the false into an aspect of the truth.
Lukács suggested we do so by situating our knowledge historically and in light of its relation to totality. Yet, when we consider Marxism historically, we quickly encounter many utopian or sectarian currents that claim to uphold the Marxist tradition. These claims usually reach back to specific historical events, for example, 1917, the founding of the Fourth International, the Chinese Revolution, 1968, and so on.
Although they ground themselves in a past event, these historical narratives almost always reflect the culture of the small ethical-political movements, communities, or sects that advocate for them. Indeed, such narratives cohere organizations and help them set themselves apart from the world. This is to say, they unconsciously meet a present need. The result is usually a moralistic, romantic, and nostalgic worldview that fails to understand or alter history as it unfolds. In HCC, Lukács explained quite correctly how this reproduces the immediate ethical, aesthetic, and historic logic of bourgeois society.35Ibid., 192.
What about totality, then? Like all totalities, it’s easier to posit Marxism as an abstract totality than a concrete one. Typically, attempts to outline Marxism as a systematic doctrine lead to dogmatism. After all, who decides on the boundary lines between Marxist and non-Marxist thought? Is it the proletariat? Pure reason? The party? The editorial board of Historical Materialism? Clearly not.
Against this kind of thinking, a cheerfully ecumenical, pragmatic Marxism is an attractive (and typically more successful) alternative. Yet this also carries risks. Suppose a self-identified Marxist is interested in ecology, social movements, political economy, or any other concrete field of study. Without a dogmatic Marxism already in hand, they should presumably begin with the facts. Yet, as Lukács reminds us, “however simple an enumeration of ‘facts’ may be, however lacking in commentary, it already implies an ‘interpretation.’”36Ibid., 5.This is because “facts are nothing but the parts, the aspects of the total process that have been broken off, artificially isolated and ossified.”37Ibid., 184, author’s emphasis.
Such an empiricist Marxism might help understand this or that concrete question. And growing mass political and industrial organizations requires open-minded coalition building and serious attention to the facts. However, because empiricism takes as its starting point a reality that is abstract, fragmented, and seemingly natural, it risks accommodating with reformism or state socialism.
Thus, we must pay attention to method precisely because we inherit our specific methodologies unconsciously, as common sense, or consciously in the academic discipline instilled by whichever set of departments and institutions we happen to be shaped by. As Lukács pointed out, this also mirrors the logic of capitalism which compartmentalises the social totality into discreet spheres that may be studied rationally, but whose overall logic is irrational.38Ibid., 100.
In the early 1920s, Lukács turned to transformative practice of the proletariat to overcome these aporias and revitalize Marxism. Yet, we live in an age of class de-alignment, and consequently, in many parts of the world, the Marxist tradition is a theory in search of practice. Once, Marxism guided movements of many millions. Today, it’s in danger of becoming the opium of the Left. We must face the possibility that history itself has turned “orthodox Marxism” into an ideology.
What’s needed is a critique of the Marxist ideology, and this is where HCC can help. For example, take Lukács’s “actuality of revolution.” The term describes a historic period in which the immanent contradictions within capitalism begin to de-reify the natural and ineluctable appearance of bourgeois society. Crises render historical what had once seemed eternal. Prior to this, revolutionary Marxism will, by necessity, remain abstract. Outside the actuality of revolution, to be committed to revolution is, at best, to maintain and promote a shared ethical commitment to a non-actual goal while contributing to partial, non-revolutionary struggles against oppression or exploitation.
During the actuality of revolution, however, Marxist theory may overcome its abstraction by orienting towards transformative practice. This is what Lukács argued Lenin accomplished.39Georg Lukács, Lenin: A Study on the Unity of His Thought (London: Verso 1967), 13. Yet, in saying this, he was being too modest about his own contribution. Instead of generalizing Leninism in the form of a program or doctrine shorn of its context, Lukács developed it into a philosophy of praxis—and philosophy gives us a standpoint from which we can relativize tradition and criticize ideology, including prior to major class struggle.
Yet, to fully understand the political value of Lukács’s philosophy of “praxis,” we must turn his method against HCC itself.40Daniel Andrés López, Lukács: Praxis and the Absolute (Leiden: Brill, 2019). While this term is key to his breakthrough, it also constitutes a conceptual mythology:41López, “Lukács: The Antinomies of Bourgeois Philosophy and the Absolute,” Thesis Eleven, 157 (April 2020): 110–32; López, “The Absolute and the Relative in Lukács and Simmel,” Aesthetic of Form as Social Philosophy: Re-reading Lukács (Zagreb: Zagreber Germanistiche Beiträge, 2020); and López, “The Finite and the Infinite in Lukács and Hegel,” Theory and Society, forthcoming 2023.
Mythologies are always born where two terminal points, or at least two stages in a movement, have to be regarded as terminal points without it being possible to discover any concrete mediation between them and the movement … But mythology inevitably adopts the structure of the problem whose opacity has been the cause of its own birth.42Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 194.
The opaque problem that has given birth to the Marxist ideology is our estranged relationship with the present. Marxism rejects the current state of affairs in favour of a liberated world to be realized after capitalism, a promise that is now vouchsafed by the memory of past events. This relation to the present, a possible future, and history is the source of Marxism’s critical power. Yet, because of this critique, Marxism misidentifies its own relation to the actuality of bourgeois society, which grounds its insight.
What I propose—with and against Lukács—is not the abandonment of our tradition but that we regather its ruins on a more rational basis. The best chance to do so rests on a self-reflexive, critical Marxism that rejects the fetishization of its ideologies and myths. In building this, we will be completing Lukács’s injunction in HCC that “historical materialism both can and must be applied to itself.”43Ibid., 228. In short, the Marxist self-knowledge of capitalist society must come to know itself.
To explain, let’s turn in closing to Lukács’s definition of historical materialism as just this “self-knowledge of capitalist society.” Socialism differs from capitalism essentially because it is a society in which we freely and knowingly institute social relations as we see fit.44Ibid., 228-9. That is, socialism is a self-knowing society in which the needs of the present outweigh institutions, relations, and modes of knowing inherited from the past. By contrast, capitalism is blind, unthinking, and bound to the dead.
It’s no slight against Lukács that he failed to carry out this program. Yet, if we follow Lukács’s method to its most radical conclusion, the resulting revolution in theory may deliver to the Left a political philosophy that can emancipate our emancipatory convictions from their ideology and mythology. Freed of the past, a reformed Marxism may at last guide us in actualizing the promise of universal freedom. Beyond the Marxist ideology lies the socialist republic.
Daniel López is the author of Lukács: Praxis and the Absolute (Leiden: Brill, 2019). He teaches political philosophy at La Trobe University and is a commissioning editor for Jacobin.
Lukács’s Overlooked Distinction of Rational Objectification and Reification
As I have argued elsewhere, Lukács’s pre-Marxist idea that social reality is founded in a particular forming of the world also permeates his early Marxist work.45Konstantinos Kavoulakos, Georg Lukács’s Philosophy of Praxis: From Neo-Kantianism to Marxism, (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), chpt. 5. In History and Class Consciousness (HCC) Lukács uses the neo-Kantian term “form of objectivity” to name the fundamental category of this forming. This “form of objectivity” is historicized and given a socio-ontological as well as an epistemological meaning.
Many commentators tend to interpret Lukács’s analysis as collapsing the distinction between, on the one hand, the modern form of objectivity that determines a specific kind of objectification and, on the other, the phenomenon of reification. Subsequently, they criticize Lukács for falling back to a kind of Hegelian idealism that seeks to overcome reification by overcoming objectification in general. For many of them this critique is devastating: it leads to a total dismissal of the theory of reification.
However, a careful reading of HCC makes it clear that objectification and reification are two related but distinct aspects of Lukács’s theory. Maintaining the distinction between the two is crucial: especially when, as is the case today, the prevailing social and economic power relations are reified and naturalized on a global scale. This specific phenomenon is what the theory of reification was designed to explain from its very beginning. By marking the distinction between the specific nature of reification and the larger issue of objectification, we can pinpoint the form of our world that requires a revolutionary response.
In his famous reification essay, Lukács defines the central form of objectivity of bourgeois society: it is the “commodity form,” which he discusses by referring to the first chapter of Marx’s Capital. In his view, the historical uniqueness of capitalist society, its qualitative difference from precapitalist societies, consists in the universalization of the commodity form. In this sense, Lukács recognizes the “constitutive” role of the “problem of the commodity … as the central, structural problem of capitalist society in all manifestations of its life.”46Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness. Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1971), 83.
As an object to be exchanged, the commodity represents, as a principle, the formal equality of qualitatively different things. The “commodity relation” is founded on the reduction of different things to their only common element, that is, the objectively countable, abstract labor needed for their production.47Ibid., 96, 97, 98. With the universalization of the commodity form in economic life, all commodity exchange is integrated in a system of market relations in which the abstraction necessary for exchange is performed according to “objective laws,” independent of the agents’ will. Finally, in capitalism the “commodity form” or “commodity structure” becomes “the prototype (Urbild) of all forms of objectivity and all forms of subjectivity that correspond to them.”48Ibid., 83.
Thus, the emergence of the capitalist division of labor is accompanied by the social establishment of a new, highly abstract form of objectivity: it is the form of “calculability,” of calculative rationality.49Ibid., 88. Lukács describes the social implementation of this form as a process of “rational objectification” that has as a consequence the concealment of “above all the—qualitative and material—immediate character of things as things.”50Ibid., 92. This fundamental structure permeates all life in bourgeois society, from the bureaucratic organization of the state to intellectual structures and intimate family relations.
The forming of the world through rational objectification must be distinguished from the “phenomenon of reification.” This latter phenomenon “results from the commodity relation” and assumes a “decisive importance both for the objective evolution of society and for the behavior of men towards it.”51Ibid., 86, author’s emphasis. Reification clouds the social-historical character of the dominant form of objectivity which I just described. Through reification, society appears describable by unchangeable “laws” and thus appears to be impenetrable by human intellect and action. Lukács describes precisely this dual, objective-socio-ontological and subjective-mental phenomenon as “reification.”
Lukács uses the term “reification” in the same sense it is used by Marx in the third volume of Capital. There Marx describes the “mystification of the capitalist mode of production,” the “reification of social relations,” that is, the “immediate coalescence of the material relations with their historical and social specificity.”52Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 3, trans. David Fernbach (London: Penguin Books, 1981), “Verdinglichung” also appears without further explications in chpt. 51, p. 1020. Marxalso uses the term “Versachlichung” in exactly the same sense, as “reification of the relations ofproduction.” See pp. 516, 969. These “material relations of production” name the abstract functions that are necessary for the social reproduction of every society.
Marx is saying that these abstract functions are taken as identical with their historically concrete realization within the framework of certain social relations. When this happens, the latter’s essentially historical nature is concealed.53See György Márkus, “Alienation and Reification in Marx and Lukács,” Thesis Eleven 5, no.6, (1982): 149–51. For Lukács as for Marx, reification always refers to precisely this “vanishing” of the historical character of social relations through their appearance as “material relations of production,” as “technical imperatives” that have the unchangeable traits of a “thing.”
Lukács uses Marx’s expression “phantom objectivity” (gespenstige Gegenständlichkeit) to denote the capitalist mystification of the social-historical reality, the constitution of a phantom-like objectivity of the commodity relation as a “thing.”54Karl Marx, Capital. A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin Books, 1976), 128; also see Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 83, 100. Lukács synthesizes his concept of the modern “prototypical” form of objectivity—the commodity form—with Marx’s analysis of commodity fetishism to explain the fact that, while socially determined, the value form is transformed into a quasi-natural fact, what he would call a “natural form” (Naturform).55Marx, 168. When seen as “natural,” further capitalist mystifications ensue: labor, capital, and land are separated from the context of their social relations and appear as “natural” sources of value.56See Marx,968–70.
Holding onto the distinction between rational objectification and reification is particularly significant today for at least four reasons. First, it allows us to respond to the misplaced critique I refer to above, which determined a great part of the reception of HCC even by prominent authors.57Most significantly Theodor Adorno. See Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E.B. Ashton(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973), 189–92. Lukács himself adopted the same misinterpretation of his own position in the 1967 preface to HCC, xxiii–xxiv. Second, retaining the distinction allows us to avoid the wrong interpretation that reification is itself a specific kind of distorted objectification, for example, of handling humans or their abilities or surroundings as “things.” In no way is reification a one-sidedly epistemic or ethical concept; it is primarily a socio-ontological and simultaneously cultural category.58This is the essence of the connection between Lukács and phenomenology suggested in Richard Westerman’s recent book. Richard Westerman, Lukács’s Phenomenology of Capitalism: Reification Revalued (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).
Third, this distinction is important because, with this view, Lukács can help us see that not every rational objectification inevitably leads to reification. For him only a historically specific form of rational objectification brings about the phenomenon of reification. Although the commodity form had already appeared in precapitalist societies, only its modern (postulated) universalization has led and continues to lead to the phenomenon of reification.
The fourth reason it is important to mark this distinction today is that doing so allows us to think of our own subjectivity. It is tempting to identify the objectification of our abilities and performances with their “reification.”59Even prominent commentators such as Lucien Goldmann give into this temptation. See “Die Verdinglichung,” in Lucien Goldman, Dialektische Untersuchungen (Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1966), 87, 92–3, 109. The same misinterpretation is repeated in more recent readings by Axel Honneth in Reification. A New Look at an Old Idea (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2008). After all, Lukács himself seems to tell us that the abilities of the subject are transformed into a “thing.”60See Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 87, 90, 91, 99, 100. However, Lukács describes the process of separating off a specific ability from thewhole personality as abstracting its qualities and rationalizing it through measurement.61See Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 88, 89, 92, 100. It is telling that in almost allcases Lukács only uses the terms “rational mechanization,” “calculability,” “rational” or “mechanicalobjectification,” not “reification.”
What becomes reified in our actions is not the self but the social ground of one’s rational objectification: a specific system of social relations which makes us relate to our abilities and their actualizations in such disjointed ways. We will always need to use our abilities to create a world of objects, but we can do so in ways that are not subjectively distorting and socially reifying.
Understood in this way, the theory of reification can substantially contribute to explaining why the crude capitalist reality we face is not an insuperable “fate” but a finite social-historical formation that can and must be challenged and overcome. Rational objectification does not condemn us to perpetual reification—it will remain a part of any truly democratic social order to come. Among other things, this means that a future emancipated society would not have to totally abandon our rational scientific knowledge and abolish our modern technologies.
The critique of reification does not amount to some kind of antiscientific and technophobic attitude, even if it can reasonably be expected that democratic control over science and technology will strengthen the consciousness of the limits of rational control. From this recognition the commitment of science and technology to life-affirming values and environmental sustainability can grow. This would probably radically alter their current orientation towards exploitation and domination of society and nature.
Lukács’s theory of reification does not predetermine the measures we will have to meet to change modern society. It rather shows that the modern project of rational domination structures a reified social world with blocked potentials for emancipation. As a part of the movement that seeks to change this world, Lukács’s theory of reification opens the way to a repoliticization of social relations and, thus, to the invention and practical pursuit of alternative political goals.
It does so by broadening our historical perspective and our consciousness of historical necessity. At the same time, Lukács’s theory of reification reminds us that it does not suffice to only conceive in thought of an emancipated socialist society and its necessity; we will have to bring it about and keep it alive through our persistent transformative practice.
Konstantinos Kavoulakos teaches philosophy at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece. He has published extensively on issues of critical Marxism and contemporary critical theory. His most recent book in English is Georg Lukács’s Philosophy of Praxis: From Neo-Kantianism to Marxism (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2018).
Capitalizing on Alienation
The concept of alienation invites romanticizing. Looking back on the first edition of History and Class Consciousness (HCC), Lukács supposes that a “fundamental and crude error” in his analysis of alienation helped drive the fame of the work. The alienated version of alienation was appealingly fatalistic; its popular “unmasking” labelled a problem while erasing the way to solve it. In 1922, a fervor for unmasking alienation was “in the air,” for both the Left and the Right.62Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge: The MIT Press), 1971, xxii. In his 1967 Preface to HCC, Lukács warns of the instability of his partial resurrection of Marx’s notion. Lukács had equated alienation with reification, or the process that makes dynamic social relationships appear to be coincidences between things.
His first error was to distinguish neither alienation nor reification from the more fundamental human practice of objectifying the world in coming to know it. As such, he tells his 1967 readers, his initial pass at alienation looked like an exercise in abstraction; or at best, it looked like the French existentialists’ view of an insurmountably absurd human condition. Lukács believed his second error at the time followed closely from the first: he dissociated alienation from the socio-economic world wherein Marx monitored its effects. With the separation, HCC’s concept of alienation lost the way to challenge the very social relations that engendered it.
Lukács knew this in 1967, but he probably did not anticipate how powerfully an inchoate concept of alienation could be enlisted in the service of right-wing fundamentalisms. Felt acutely, but as a fugue state, alienation cuts a romantic figure: longing for something lost; living dispossessed within the ruins of a world once grand. Alienation can urge backward to a fulfilled past, or forward to a fulfilling future, or it can rest assured of its rightness about the wrongness of the present. (Lukács mentions Fichte’s definition of the present as the “age of total degradation.”)
Yet while romantic anticapitalism was once in the wheelhouse of the ostensible left, sitting well with its better hidden oppressive tendencies, the same ideology now directs two related right-wing narratives, which together comprise a core position of conservative fundamentalisms and populisms. The first plays up the “romantic return” narrative: the idea that a more traditional, psychologically, and environmentally healthy past should be reclaimed. This is the sense in which Trumpism demands that we make America great again—or that Orbán, Erdoğan, Putin, Åkesson et al. repeat that call for their own nations or ethnic groups.63Katie Terezakis, “The Revival of Romantic Anti-Capitalism on the Right: A Synopsis Informed by Agnes Heller’s Philosophy,” Critical Horizons 21, no. 4 (2020): 291–302. Trumpism and its Russian and European counterparts have commandeered the ethos of romantic anticapitalism to promise that a return to traditional values (in Christian nationalism, anarcho-capitalism, and so on) would reshape the inherent promise of capitalism and reproduce the longed-for world, at least for its real natives.
The romantic return narrative is complemented by the narrative of managed decline. Managed decline sees alienation as the necessary result of left-wing policies designed to degrade the United States and other European nations economically and militarily, with the government managing the process to protect special interests, such as unions.64Eric Laursen, “The Truth Behind Managed Decline,” com, June 13, 2011, updated August 13, 2011. Revelations about Davos elites and global currency expose the alleged roll-out of managed decline. Conspiracy theories related to Covid–19 are often situated within its plotline.
This narrative takes aim at a state capitalism run by unelected bureaucrats (sometimes backed by illegitimately elected Democrats) and further empowered by intellectual and popular culture, which shows people how to vie for protections by claiming victimization. As such, the narrative of managed decline, like that of romantic return, has cultural-moral as well as socio-economic battles to wage. As befits the romantic ideal, the combatants of those battles are heroic outsiders.
Lukács associates the false twinning of alienation and romantic idealization with his early “revolutionary messianism,” “messianic utopianism,” or “romantic anticapitalism.” While mistaken, the analyses “have their source not so much in the idiosyncrasies of the author as in the prevalent, often mistaken tendencies of the age.”65Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, xiv, xviii, x, xxv. Alienation, in its romantic rebirth, comes of age in a period increasingly too exhausted by war, debt, disease, and the omnipresence of capitalism to imagine revolutionary transformation.
The older Lukács of 1967 appreciates that Marx’s analysis of alienation was born whole, from a humanism resolved against the degradation of human potential. Lukács writes of the excitement of discovering Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts at the Marx–Engels Institute in Moscow in 1930.66Ibid., xxxvi. He notes the essence of those humanistic concepts in Marx’s later political economic writings. But Marx, Lukács later appreciates, understood nature as a social category, or that people are nature self-transforming in practical if unpredictable ways.
Marx never saw alienation as existential despair because his analysis of social life begins with labor as a creative interaction of nature, society, and individual. Whereas laboring is getting to know the world by working on it, alienation is one cancerous variant, which thrives in capitalist production. Bypassing labor as the basic human action, a characteristic tendency of theory in the 1920s, meant losing the economic foundation of a realistic social theory. It also meant missing nature as real, in all its otherness, transforming and being transformed by creative deeds.
But as Lukács was writing his new preface in 1967, romantic anticapitalism and the unmasking of alienation had already caught on again. The messianic utopianism shed by Lukács became a widespread cultural fetish. Katherine Dunn’s novel, Toad, lives closely among the utopian dropouts of the late 1960s.67Katherine Dunn, Toad: A Novel (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), 2002. In this story, all the boys read philosophy, no less after they’ve decamped from school. None manage to work, whether at manual labor in town or homesteading in the country, but they romanticize these activities and idealize the people who do them. Mostly white men from middle class families, these bohemians throw vegetable seeds onto the lawn but fail to produce extravagant gardens. Their chickens don’t lay eggs. Despite considerable erudition, the hippies of Toad seem unable to learn from their failures because they aren’t the ones working through them.
In the meanwhile, those who must labor, do so. Freethinker Sam (Omar, Aram—he changes his name) has a young wife, Carlotta, who cooks, cleans, gives birth, and otherwise attempts to keep house around Sam and his interlocutors. Spike, the brother of Toad’s narrator, is a welder, his body pummeled and ultimately disabled by the job. He helps Sam and Carlotta build some of the things they need. Spike later remarks:
See, the thing that bothers me is it’s not impossible to live like Aram wants to … But I don’t know if Aram can do that … Seems to think if he can read a book about something and talk about it, it’s as good as done. I don’t see why he wants to be a trapper, anyway. He wasn’t raised to it, and it’s a hard life.68Ibid., 253.
Dunn’s hippies are antiwar and they abjure “the Man,” but they remain parasitic on state institutions as well as their underclasses. Like the theory Lukács criticizes, the fact of their misunderstanding of work eludes them. Dunn shows this by allowing for the fact of labor. Her young men detail the wrongness of the present while taking advantage of it. Their alienation, as the privileged sons of the relatively affluent, looks different from that of the workers who are too busy working to pretend the activity is beautiful or free. The romantic utopians of this novel reproduce the oppressive tendencies of the state, writ small.
On the hundredth anniversary of HCC’s first edition, the West is in the catches of the “great resignation” with, for example, 65 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 believing that American democracy is failing or has already failed.698. Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, “Harvard Youth Poll,” December 1, 2021, https://iop.harvard.edu/youth-poll/fall-2021-harvard-youth-poll. Again now, alienation is in the air, as is its unmasking. But today, groups with organized responses to the diagnosis are more likely to be right-wing. The institutional left still tends to disavow the possibility that alienation might be democratically contested only within a Marxist framework. Institutional democratic (liberal/ labour) parties are good at articulating the wrongness of the present without making way toward changing it.
Meanwhile, conservative populisms win support in part because they correctly blame the apparatuses of state-led capitalism for diminishing the economic, security-providing, and identity-binding power of the state. When they accuse the Left of vying for protections that further indebt it to a corrupt state, the charge appears to stick. The institutional left, following liberal political and neoliberal economic axioms, has largely abandoned its most radical, potentially transformative antecedents.
Foremost, it has abandoned the analysis of capitalism that makes genuine sense of alienation. In the absence of that analysis, reactionary factions have rushed to claim exclusive insight into the causes of the malady that seems to define the age. And they offer Christian nationalist, white supremacist, and other far right solutions.
It might be harder now to imagine a practical alternative to the reactionary right and institutional left than it was in 1967, but Lukács was correct. The alternative has been available all along. Lukács calls the solution Marxist “orthodoxy,” and he identifies social ontology as the key to unlocking its potential for the present. Although Lukács’s terms sound dated, he was referring to the way we should identify nodes of resistance to capitalism, and connect them to one another via economic realities, foremost the reality of labor.
Lukács tells us that there is no good reason for avoiding Marx or the method of Marxist orthodoxy. Dissociating Marxist method from the guiding principles of what passes as left-wing political activism has been the greatest boon afforded to the ultra-conservative right. Right-wing ideologues appropriated not only the romantic ethos of alienation but the critique of state power integral to anticapitalism. This is a good place to begin again. Alienation is once more an emotional and economic reality, yet as Lukács came to see, there is no good reason to accept it as our existential condition.
Katie Terezakis is Professor of Philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology. She is the editor of Engaging Agnes Heller: A Critical Companion and the co-editor, with Jack Sanders, of Lukács’ Soul and Form. Her book, The Reinvention of Idealism in American Philosophy: Action, Agency, and History, is anticipated in 2024.
- Andrew Feenberg, The Philosophy of Praxis: Marx, Lukács, and the Frankfurt School, revised ed. (Brooklyn: Verso, 2014), 77.
- Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1971), 87.
- Ibid., 88.
- Ibid., 102.
- Ibid., 171.
- Arthur Bueno and Mariana Teixeira, “Spectres of Reification: Weber and Simmel on History and Class Consciousness,” Journal of Classical Sociology 17, no. 2 (May 2017): 101–15.
- Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 102.
- David Plotke, “Marxism, Sociology and Crisis: Lukács’ Critique of Weber,” Berkeley Journal of Sociology 20 (2023): 208.
- Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 102.
- Michael Löwy, Georg Lukács: From Romanticism to Bolshevism, Patrick Camiller (London: NLB, 1979), 179.
- John Cassidy, “Rational Irrationality: The Real Reason that Capitalism is So Crash-Prone,” The New Yorker, September 28, 2009.
- Simon Schaupp, “Cybernetic Proletarianization: Spirals of Devaluation and Conflict in Digitalized Production,” Capital & Class 46, no. 1 (March 1, 2022): 11–31.
- Marianne Arens, “Striking Health Care Workers in Germany: ‘Privatization Was a Big Mistake,’” World Socialist Website, September 22, 2022.
- For an expanded version of the argument presented here, see Mariana Teixeira, “The Revolutionary Subject in Lukács and Feminist Standpoint Theory: Dilaceration and Emancipatory Interest,” in Confronting Reification: Revitalizing Georg Lukács’s Thought in Late Capitalism, Gregory R. Smulewicz-Zucker, ed. (Leiden: Brill, 2020).
- Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge: The MIT Press), 1971.
- Nancy, Hartsock, “The Feminist Standpoint: Developing the Ground for a Specifically Feminist Historical Materialism,” Discovering Reality, Sandra Harding and Merrill B. Hintikka, eds. (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1983), 283–310.
- Ibid., 290.
- Ibid., 294.
- Ibid., 305.
- Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 89.
- Ibid., 88, translation amended by author.
- Ibid., 166.
- Ibid., 181.
- Ibid., 166.
- Ibid., 164.
- Ibid., 80.
- Dorothy Smith, “Women’s Perspective as a Radical Critique of Sociology,” Sociological Inquiry 44, no. 1 (1974): 7–13.
- Ibid., 9.
- Ibid., 10.
- Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness (Cambridge: MIT Press 1968), 1.
- Ibid., 1.
- Ibid., xlvi.
- Ibid., xlvii.
- Ibid., 192.
- Ibid., 5.
- Ibid., 184, author’s emphasis.
- Ibid., 100.
- Georg Lukács, Lenin: A Study on the Unity of His Thought (London: Verso 1967), 13.
- Daniel Andrés López, Lukács: Praxis and the Absolute (Leiden: Brill, 2019).
- López, “Lukács: The Antinomies of Bourgeois Philosophy and the Absolute,” Thesis Eleven, 157 (April 2020): 110–32; López, “The Absolute and the Relative in Lukács and Simmel,” Aesthetic of Form as Social Philosophy: Re-reading Lukács (Zagreb: Zagreber Germanistiche Beiträge, 2020); and López, “The Finite and the Infinite in Lukács and Hegel,” Theory and Society, forthcoming 2023.
- Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 194.
- Ibid., 228.
- Ibid., 228–29.
- Konstantinos Kavoulakos, Georg Lukács’s Philosophy of Praxis: From Neo-Kantianism to Marxism, (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), chpt. 5.
- Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness. Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1971), 83.
- Ibid., 96, 97, 98.
- Ibid., 83.
- Ibid., 88.
- Ibid., 92.
- Ibid., 86, author’s emphasis.
- Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 3, trans. David Fernbach (London: Penguin Books, 1981), “Verdinglichung” also appears without further explications in chpt. 51, p. 1020. Marxalso uses the term “Versachlichung” in exactly the same sense, as “reification of the relations ofproduction.” See pp. 516, 969.
- See György Márkus, “Alienation and Reification in Marx and Lukács,” Thesis Eleven 5, no.6, (1982): 149–51.
- Karl Marx, Capital. A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin Books, 1976), 128; also see Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 83, 100.
- Marx, 168.
- See Marx, 968–70.
- Most significantly Theodor Adorno. See Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E.B. Ashton(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973), 189–92. Lukács himself adopted the same misinterpretation of his own position in the 1967 preface to HCC, xxiii–
- This is the essence of the connection between Lukács and phenomenology suggested in RichardWesterman’s recent book. Richard Westerman, Lukács’s Phenomenology of Capitalism: Reification Revalued (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).
- Even prominent commentators such as Lucien Goldmann give into this temptation. See “Die Verdinglichung,” in Lucien Goldman, Dialektische Untersuchungen (Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1966), 87, 92–3, 109. The same misinterpretation is repeated in more recent readings by Axel Honneth in Reification. A New Look at an Old Idea (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).
- See Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 87, 90, 91, 99, 100.
- See Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 88, 89, 92, 100. It is telling that in almost allcases Lukács only uses the terms “rational mechanization,” “calculability,” “rational” or “mechanicalobjectification,” not “reification.”
- Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge: The MIT Press), 1971, xxii.
- Katie Terezakis, “The Revival of Romantic Anti-Capitalism on the Right: A Synopsis Informed by Agnes Heller’s Philosophy,” Critical Horizons 21, no. 4 (2020): 291–302.
- Eric Laursen, “The Truth Behind Managed Decline,” com, June 13, 2011, updated August 13, 2011.
- Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, xiv, xviii, x, xxv.
- Ibid., xxxvi.
- Katherine Dunn, Toad: A Novel (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), 2002.
- Ibid., 253.
- Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, “Harvard Youth Poll,” December 1, 2021,https://iop.harvard.edu/youth-poll/fall-2021-harvard-youth-poll.