The Hungarian literary critic and philosopher Gyorgy Lukács (1885-1971) was one of the foremost Marxist literary critics and theorists. His influence on criticism has been considerable in both Western and Eastern Europe.
Gyorgy Lukács was born April 13, 1885, in Budapest, into a wealthy, intellectual, Jewish banking family. He was a brilliant student and was given a cosmopolitan education in Hungary and Germany. Until 1917 he devoted himself to art and esthetics and was not interested in politics. Writing primarily in German, he achieved his first fame as a literary critic with The Soul and the Forms (Hungarian, 1910; German, 1911) and The Theory of the Novel (1916 as an article; 1920 as a book), a study of the spiritual aspects of the novel. During World War I he taught in a German university.
Because of the shock of the war and the impressions made on him by the Russian Revolution, Lukács completed a move from Neo-Kantianism through Hegelianism to Marxism and joined the Hungarian Communist party. Despite the party's often official displeasure with his intellectual work, he remained faithful to it. In 1919 he served as deputy commissar of culture in the revolutionary Béla Kun Communist government in Hungary. After the government was overthrown, he had to emigrate to Vienna and for about a decade participated actively in party affairs and disputes.
In 1923 he wrote History and Class Consciousness. This complex, theoretical, sociological work explored important but, until then, little-emphasized aspects of Marx's work: the strong connection with Hegel, the importance of the dialectic, and the concept of alienation. He also examined the nature of the working class's own self-consciousness. Lukács argued that genuine Marxism was not a body of rigid economic truths but a method of analysis which could enable the revolution to be created. His interpretation of Marxism influenced many European intellectuals but was attacked as dangerously revisionist by Soviet dogmatists, and his career in party politics was over by the late 1920s.
With the danger of fascism growing in Europe, Lukács emigrated to the Soviet Union in 1933. He worked as a literary editor and critic, emphasizing the relationship between a work of art and its sociohistorical period. Several times he publicly repudiated all his previous work and occasionally shifted his views to conform to the official party line and paid lip service to official Soviet socialist realism, but he later regarded this as a tactical necessity to survive physically in Stalin's Russia and still get his ideas heard. Despite occasional Marxist-Leninist dogmatisms, he wrote perceptive criticism and concentrated on realistic 19th-century literature. Whether through personal predilection or the exigencies of the Communist party line, he became cold to almost the entire modernist movement in literature.
Returning to Hungary in 1945, Lukács was active in cultural affairs and as a professor of esthetics and cultural philosophy, but he was again stigmatized for his heterodox views. Deeply affected by Nikita Khrushchev's revelations of Stalin's crimes, he spoke out publicly against Stalinist dogmatism in Hungary, and in 1956, joined the short-lived Imré Nagy government. After the Soviet invasion of Hungary, he was exiled to Romania, allowed to return in 1957, and forced to retire and go into seclusion. However, after 1965 he was again publicly honored in Hungary. Lukács died on June 4, 1971, in Budapest.
Further Reading on Gyorgy Lukács
For a fairly complete bibliography of Lukács's work in Western European languages see G. H. R. Parkinson, ed., Georg Lukács: The Man, His Work and His Ideas (1970), which also has extensive biographical material. George Lichtheim, George Lukács (1970), is a study of Lukács's ideas; Lichtheim's The Concept of Ideology and Other Essays (1967) contains a generally favorable discussion of Lukács's early career and considers that his later career was an intellectual disaster. Victor Zitta, Georg Lukács's Marxism: Alienation, Dialectics, Revolution; A Study in Utopia and Ideology (1964), is a detailed study of Lukács and his thought up to the 1920s. An interesting critique of Lukács is in Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation, and Other Essays (1966).
Additional Biography Sources
Lukács, Gyorgy, Record of a life: an autobiographical sketch, London: Verso, 1983.
Kadarkay, Arpad, Gyorgy Lukács: life, thought, and politics, Cambridge, Mass., USA: B. Blackwell, 1991.
Congdon, Lee, The young Lukács, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983.