Lenin: A Study in the Unity of His Thought

ISBN: 1859841740
ISBN 13: 9781859841747
By: György Lukács

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In Lukács’ elegantly crafted, concise and accessible account, Lenin emerges as the consummate dialectician, the “theoretician of practice and the practitioner of theory.”

Reader's Thoughts


This is a hugely underappreciated piece of work. In less than 100 pages Lukács makes the case that Lenin was a thinker on par with Marx, and the only thinker to be so since Marx at that time. His use of the dialectic helps the reader in understanding the dialectic itself, and in fact his dialectic cuts against his later self criticisms and establishes a clear break from the Lukács we read in this work, and the Stalinist Lukács of later years.This is more than just sycophancy; Lukács tackles - briefly as it may be - important questions for revolutionaries today to understand. a highly recommended read (or reread) for all revolutionary socialists.


Written in part as an elegy upon Lenin's decease, and in part as insurance against author's own impending liquidation--for his magnum opus, History and Class Consciousness, had been "condemned by Soviet authorities in 1924 at the fifth World Congress of the Comintern" (Jay, Marxism & Totality, at 103)--this book is a funny little thing. Jay avers that even Lukacs' enemies recognized the HCC as "the first book in which philosophical Marxism ceases to be a cosmological romance and thus a surrogate 'religion' for the lower classes" (loc. cit. at 102). According to Kolakowski, no friend of marxism, the HCC "criticized Engels' idea of the dialectic of nature" and "disputed the theory of 'reflection' which Lenin had declared to be the essence of Marxist epistemology" (Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism: The Breakdown, at 260). In jolly commie land, that means your ass. It is unlikely that this slim volume can be properly understood without reference to the HCC; I'm not going to make that reading here--it's too hard. But one should rest assured that all of the generic hegelocommietalk herein actually signifies something.In this context, Lukacs publishes this study of Lenin. It begins poorly with a bizarre declaration that "historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution" (9). Um, yeah? We can measure "the stature of a proletarian thinker" with reference to "the extent to which he is able accurately to detect beneath the appearances of bourgeois society those tendencies towards proletarian revolution which work themselves in and through it to their effective being and distinct consciousness" (id.). In what can only be considered a very limited or backhanded compliment, Lukacs submits that "by these criteria Lenin is the greatest thinker to have been produced by the revolutionary working-class movement since Marx" (id.). The remainder of the book works through standard marxist categories of analysis in evidencing this thesis.The key concern is that the "actuality of the revolution" is the "core of Lenin's thought" (11). This means that theory is transformed into praxis by the dialectical revolutionist. So, against the Mensheviks and Bernstein/Kautsky types, Lenin did not accept that the backward Russian empire was unsuitable for socialism for lack of successful bourgeois revolution in economics or politics; rather, "the bourgeoisie had ceased to be a revolutionary class" having allied with the "old ruling powers," a "compromise which springs from mutual fear of a greater evil and not a class alliance based on common interests" (20). This sleight of mind allows the bolsheviks to seize the state, despite the prior dispositions of marxist theory to the contrary.Lenin is presented as inferior to Hilferding in economics and to Luxemburg on the issue of imperialism--but Lenin trumps because of "his concrete articulation of the economic theory of imperialism with every political problem of the present epoch" (41). In the penultimate chapoter, Lenin is presented as a compromiser, practitioner of realpolitik, contrary to the posturing of Herr Pipes in his sophomoric histories.1967 coda backs off the primary text in some ways, suggesting that Lenin's theory of imperialism is invalid after all (91). Some odd references to Shakespeare in the postscript, and a surreal fundamentalist bit about "human salvation" early in the primary essay (11). Jay presents this volume as one in which "virtually all residues of his ultra-leftist sectarianism were purged from the argument" (loc. cit. at 120). Kolakowski, for his part, correctly summarizes this text as using "the notion of Totalitat to describe the core of Lenin's doctrine," but then goes way off the rails into disingenuous fantasy by suggesting Lukacs' position is that Lenin "discerned the revolutionary trend of the age independently of particular facts and events, or rather in the facts themselves, and united all current issues" (loc. cit. at 267). Anyway, recommended for western marxists and rabid but bored anti-communists.

Bob Reutenauer

Lenin the practical leader to whom is attributed such guiding bromides as " be as radical as reality" and "begin again at the beginning again and again" and "left wing communism an infantile disorder" is drawn clearly in this 1924 analysis by Lukacs the Hungarian philosopher/politician/partisan. Written quickly after death of Lenin and before the rise of Stalin this important historical text includes a 1967 afterword by the long lived Lukacs. Fascinating and accessible. I struggled mightily years ago with his classic work "History and Class Consciousness" have stayed away since. On the list now with Gramsci "Prison Notebooks" to revisit.

Achille M

No idea what the other reviewer means by calling this 'hagiography' -- if anything that's an accurate description of the 1967 Postscript, that goes on and on about Lenin's wonderful personality. Unfortunately any work that sees Lenin's thought as the continuation of Marxism without calling him a dictator is seen by leftists as dogma, whatever that means.This work was the first attempt to synthesize Lenin's thought, and probably an impressive achievement for 1924.Lukacs bases Lenin's conception of the party on "the strictest selection of party members based on proletarian class consciousness" (paraphrased), but that's only correct in the context of building the foundations of the party in the early 1900s (the classic misinterpretation of "What is to be Done?" as timeless dogma) as well as during the period of reaction (1907-1912). In periods of revolutionary upswing like 1905, 1913-14, 1917, Lenin basically took what was the Menshevik position in 1903, precisely because for him party organization was something dynamic and attached to the state of the class struggle, not a fixed principle. Lukacs at least acknowledges this last point, but I think the error betrays an ultra-leftism that I also get from his theory of "the actuality of revolution".He makes the great point that Lenin's genius isn't based on 'realpolitik' or 'practical cunning' and so on, but on a purely theoretical advantage: making theory concrete. According to Lukacs, for example, Luxemburg's theory of imperialism is more sophisticated from an economic perspective, but Lenin's remains superior because he made it a concrete question, that is, attached it to the political issues of the day. There's a thread running through Lenin's assessment of class forces in Russia, his theory of imperialism, and his revolutionary tactics.Overall, it's a decent survey, probably mostly limited from the time in which it was written. I wouldn't recommend just because of what I regard as 1. overly academic/eclectic language for an introductory work (what else could Verso market to leftist hipsters?) and 2. an ultra-left interpretation of Lenin's tactics, which might be a result of Lukacs's context (the 1920s), not sure though.

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