GEORG LUKACS AND HIS DEVIL'S PACT

Mar 3, 2019

Trong lúc đọc Lukács (3): văn chương Đức

(nhân tiện - cùng chủ đề - tiếp tục và cũng kết thúc luôn "Xã hội học về đao phủ" của Roger Caillois)


Sau hai "kỳ" thuộc chuỗi "Trong lúc đọc Lukács" - kỳ 1, kỳ 2, tôi thấy cần - nếu muốn nhìn nhận Lukács thực sự một cách toàn diện (nhìn nhận toàn diện một nhân vật như Lukács rất không dễ) cần phải kéo sang một số phía nữa. Một trong số những phía ấy là văn chương Đức. Văn chương Đức có một điểm đặc biệt là được hưởng một số nhân vật diễn giải siêu hạng nhưng không phải là người Đức (chính trong cuốn sách trong ảnh, Lukács cũng nói đến một đặc điểm lớn của văn chương Đức nói riêng và tinh thần Đức nói chung: luôn luôn có tác động từ bên ngoài); tức là, Lukács thuộc vào một bộ ba nhân vật đặc biệt quan trọng, tuy không phải là người Đức nhưng là những người bình luận tuyệt vời văn chương (bằng tiếng) Đức; hai người còn lại là Claudio MagrisGeorge Steiner. Nhưng tại sao lại thế (yếu tố bên ngoài)? Tôi sẽ tìm cách lý giải điều này ở phần dưới.

Ấn bản tiếng Pháp của Lịch sử ngắn về văn chương Đức do nhà xuất bản Nagel ấn hành năm 1949, dịch nó sang tiếng Pháp là Michel Butor và nhất là Lucien Goldmann (trong chuỗi "trong lúc đọc Lukács" tôi sẽ sớm dành riêng một kỳ cho Goldmann).

Chưa cần đọc cuốn sách (ngày nay không thực sự được biết đến nhiều), độc giả của Lukács đã biết Lukács là một độc giả siêu hạng của văn chương Đức, trong tổng thể của nó cũng như một số nhân vật riêng, chẳng hạn Thomas Mann hay nhất là Gottfried Keller. Lukács cũng dễ dàng nhận ra, để nhìn nhận văn chương Đức ở mức độ kỹ càng nhất và trong một thời độ lớn, nhân vật nhất thiết cần đặt ở vị trí xương sống là Heinrich Heine: Heine là một sự kỳ diệu đúng nghĩa. Nhân vật Đức nào sẽ lặp lại yếu tố kỳ diệu ấy, về sau? Tôi nghĩ là tôi đã thấy rõ: đó chính là Walter Benjamin.

Trước khi đi tiếp, tôi muốn ngoặt vào câu chuyện ở Việt Nam. Với Heine, yếu tố một nửa trong cấu trúc ý thức ở đây thêm một lần nữa hiện lên chói lòa. Heinrich Heine ở Việt Nam đồng nghĩa với một nhà thơ chuyên rên rỉ hoa lá cành, một thứ nếu không phải mềm nhũn thì ít nhất cũng như thể không có gân cốt gì. Tức là một hình ảnh còn hơn cả mức méo mó.

Tiếp tục - tất nhiên ở một mức độ và bình diện khác hẳn - một nhân vật văn chương Đức khác: Eichendorff. Chính ở đây có thể thấy rất rõ sự không biết đọc của giới nghiên cứu Việt Nam, cả ở trường hợp Eichendorff lẫn chính ở trường hợp Lukács. Lukács không hề nhầm lẫn về Eichendorff, như có thể thấy rất rõ dưới đây:



Thế nhưng, ở Việt Nam, đâu phải không có chuyên gia về Lukács. Thêm một lần nữa: các chuyên gia văn học ở Việt Nam (trong mọi lĩnh vực) lại giả vờ là chuyên gia. Lại giả vờ đọc. Nhưng riêng trong địa hạt Lukács, sự giả vờ này đặc biệt gây ra nhiều hệ lụy lớn.


Trên đây, Lukács miêu tả Eichendorff hết sức ngắn gọn nhưng hiệu quả, rất chuẩn xác: có hai xu hướng trong văn chương Đức giai đoạn ấy, kể những câu chuyện rất "nghệ thuật" và đồng thời lại có xu hướng của một "nghệ thuật kể chuyện thực sự bình dân"; hai xu hướng đó hội tụ một cách rõ nét nhất vào Eichendorff. Lukács nói thêm, những tác phẩm "tốt nhất" của Eichendorff (độc giả của Eichendorff biết ngay ở đây đang ám chỉ đến câu chuyện về kẻ ăn không ngồi rồi) ngày nay vẫn còn rất "sống"; đối với một con người của biện chứng như Lukács, đây là cả một lời khen ngợi lớn.

Nhưng điều đó rất đúng: khi nói đến Eichendorff và nhất là câu chuyện về kẻ ăn không ngồi rồi, ngay lập tức tôi muốn so sánh nó với Eine kleine Nachtmusik của Mozart; vả lại, những miêu tả văn chương của Eichendorff của Lukács hoàn toàn cũng có thể áp dụng (không thừa không thiếu) để miêu tả âm nhạc của Mozart.

Nhưng - các nhà lý luận văn học Việt Nam rất hiểu tôi đang nói gì - vậy có nghĩa là ở đây người ta chẳng hề thực sự đọc Lukács.

Nhưng, điều đó hết sức phi lý: bộ khung của "chủ nghĩa hiện thực" của các vị được xây dựng bằng cách nào đây, nếu không dựa trên một số tư tưởng, trong đó tư tưởng của Lukács nổi bật hơn cả? Rồi "nguyên lý phản ánh hiện thực" suốt mấy chục năm các vị dạy dỗ học trò, nó ở đâu ra?

Tuy nhiên, câu chuyện Lukács ở Việt Nam lại - chính trong sự phi lý của nó (sự phi lý bắt nguồn từ giả vờ đọc) - lại phản ánh một điều hết sức quan yếu trong cái hoạt động gọi là "lý luận văn học". Tôi sẽ nói hết sức đích xác về nó ngay dưới đây.

Đó là, các nhà lý luận văn học Việt Nam đã trở thành nhà lý luận chỉ vì, họ không đọc được văn chương. Lukács hết sức dễ dàng nhìn nhận giá trị của từng nhân vật văn chương, còn các nhà lý luận văn học Việt Nam thì không.

Tức là, ở đây có một điều: sự trông như là Lukács. Nói đúng hơn, trông như là lý luận. Đó là một thứ lý luận nghịch lý hai lần: lý luận ấy khẳng định ròng rã rằng chính nó dựa trên "hiện thực" (thực tại mới đúng), với các "hình thái tồn tại" (hình thức mới đúng), tránh xa trừu tượng, siêu hình etc., và nhất là tránh xa "duy tâm" (lý tưởng luận mới đúng) nhưng lý luận văn học ở Việt Nam lại chính là một thứ trừu tượng, "vague terms". Và đó là một thứ trừu tượng hạng bét. Một simulacre.

Hết thế hệ này sang thế hệ kia, trong vòng hơn nửa thế kỷ vừa rồi, người ta tiến hành (vả cả - nhất là - dạy dỗ) một thứ lý luận chẳng hề hướng vào đâu hết: không có đối tượng (rất hay bị gọi một cách nhảm nhí là khách thể). Nó không giải thích được gì hết, bởi vì chính bản thân nó cần được giải thích. Ông Trần Đình Sử, ông La Khắc Hòa, ông Trương Đăng Dung, ông Trịnh Bá Đĩnh, ông Lê Ngọc Trà, ông Huỳnh Như Phương đều như vậy hết.

Trên đây tôi chủ ý lựa chọn hai nhân vật có tính chất rất khác nhau: Heine và Eichendorff. Điểm độc đáo của Eichendorff nằm ở chỗ nhân vật ấy không hề có mặt trên bình diện thật (effectif) tại Việt Nam. Chính vì thế mọi sự càng rõ ràng hơn, bởi vì được nhìn từ một perspective hoàn toàn khác. Tôi sẵn sàng gọi (với rất nhiều nguy cơ, tôi biết) đó là cái nhìn chân không. Vả lại, vậy thì sao? bởi vì chính quyển giáo trình đại học trong đường link liên quan đến Eichendorff trên đây vẫn thoải mái bình luận chân không đấy chứ. Lấy chân không để bình luận (tức là áp lên) chân không.

Một ví dụ nói lên sự chân không nơi các nhà lý luận văn học Việt Nam: mệnh đề "văn chương có đau thì mới hay" của Trần Đình Sử. Chưa nói đến chuyện tinh thần của mệnh đề đó toát lên mùi vị của sự maso, tức là một tinh thần khổ dâm (theo tôi yếu tố này hết sức quan trọng, nhưng tôi sẽ không đi sâu), ấy còn là một mệnh đề cho thấy sự không hướng vào đâu. Tức là, lộn ngược (tôi đang dùng cái nhìn rất đặc trưng Karl Marx, không có gì bí hiểm hết): không phải văn chương có đau thì mới hay, không phải có một sơ đồ, một a priori, một định kiến, một dạy dỗ để rồi mọi chuyện diễn ra như vậy, mà vấn đề nằm ở chỗ "văn chương có hay thì mới etc." (chẳng hạn thế). Chính vì yếu tố chân không (chẳng biết xoay về đâu, giống các phi hành gia trong môi trường không gian phi trọng lực) cho nên mọi thứ chỉ lung tung hết cả. Điều này không khó hiểu: Trần Đình Sử không hề có khả năng đọc văn chương. Quay trở lại chính xác với Kiều, một thứ đá thử vàng của phê bình văn học Việt Nam: Trần Đình Sử đích xác nằm trong nhóm những người bình luận Kiều kém cỏi nhất. Rốt cuộc, Trần Đình Sử là một người nịnh bợ Tố Hữu.

Trong địa hạt của các nhà lý luận cũng có chi phối ở diện rất rộng của cơ chế biện minh, giống ở các nhà phê bình văn học. Họ biện minh cho sự không biết đọc của mình bằng các nguyên lý và phạm trù. Huỳnh Như Phương sẽ tán dương nhân vật nào của văn chương Sài Gòn? Chính là một nhân vật có văn chương rất trung bình, Thế Nguyên của Hồi chuông tắt lửa. Một cuốn sách có nhan đề gồm "cấu trúc" của Trịnh Bá Đĩnh thì không có chút cấu trúc nào. Một cuốn sách có nhan đề gồm "ký hiệu học" của La Khắc Hòa thì không có chút ký hiệu nào. Tôi sẽ còn quay trở lại với những trường hợp cụ thể ấy. Nhưng, điều quan trọng nằm ở chính một điểm: đọc.

Thêm nữa, điều vừa miêu tả trên đây tìm được hồi ứng (tôi quay trở lại với các tương đương, thậm chí các đối xứng qua gương ưa thích của tôi) ở đích xác cái phía rất bất ngờ: hải ngoại. Một cuốn sách của Đặng Tiến trong nhan đề có "thi pháp" thì có nghĩa hoàn toàn chẳng có thi pháp gì hết. Nhưng vấn đề còn rộng hơn nhiều: khi Nguyễn Hưng Quốc viết sách về lý thuyết văn học, thì đó chỉ là để nói lên rằng Nguyễn Hưng Quốc chưa bao giờ đọc bất kỳ cái gì thuộc về lý thuyết.

Tiếp tục sự biện minh: ông Trịnh Bá Đĩnh có một hình thức biện minh rất độc đáo, ấy là hềnh hệch làm trò hề; cuộc đời nhà lý luận văn học của ông Trịnh Bá Đĩnh là một sự làm hề kéo dài không điểm kết. Ông Huỳnh Như Phương: viết tản văn (rất kém) và ông Trương Đăng Dung (nhân vật rất quan yếu trong địa hạt Lukács): làm thơ (thơ của ông Trương Đăng Dung đặc biệt dở).

Và một phần lớn của câu chuyện diễn ra trong một sự nhập nhằng giữa lý luậnlý thuyết. Nhưng hai cái đó đâu phải là một: cái này là hình ảnh biếm họa của cái kia. Yên tâm, tôi đã ở rất gần một miêu tả hết sức tường minh về tương quan lý thuyết-lý luận trong nghiên cứu văn học.


Quay trở lại với Lukács: tiếp tục cần phải "kéo" rộng thêm nữa (để trả Lukács về với kích cỡ thực):


Ngoài Đức, đối với câu chuyện Lukács, còn phải nói đến Matxcơva - tức là Liên Xô. Ta biết rằng Lukács lần đầu tiên đến Matxcơva (sau khi ở Viên) đầu năm 1930. Lần này, Lukács không ở đó lâu, nhưng đây là quãng lưu trú nhiều ý nghĩa, với sự cộng tác của Lukács cùng Viện Marx-Engels (ở đoạn này, Riazanov đứng đầu), thời gian khoảng hơn một năm. Chính tại đây Lukács sẽ tìm được một người đồng chí bất ngờ: Lifschitz trẻ tuổi - cụm từ "xã hội học dung tục" mà chúng ta rất quen thuộc là sản phẩm của Lifschitz (với một lưu ý: ở đây không muốn nói đến "sociology" mà một lân cận của nó, "sociologism" - có thể gọi là "xã hội luận").

Thời gian ở Liên Xô (hai giai đoạn: sau quãng hơn một năm tại Viện Marx-Engels Matxcơva, mùa hè năm 1931 Lukács được Quốc tế cử sang Đức - đây cũng là một đoạn quan trọng, tôi sẽ còn trở lại, nhất là trong cuộc đối đầu với Bertolt Brecht - rồi quay lại Matxcơva lúc Hitler nên nắm quyền, rồi ở lại đây cho đến tận lúc Hungary được giải phóng) là lúc để Lukács coin một khái niệm sẽ có vận hạn rất lớn: "thực tại luận lớn"; thời gian ấy, Lukács (cũng như mọi khi, trong cả đời) chiến đấu trên cùng một lúc nhiều mặt trận: với tác giả bộ tiểu thuyết được biết đến rất nhiều ở Việt Nam, Đội cận vệ thanh niên, cũng như nhiều nhân vật Nga, nhưng đồng thời cũng với những người Đức sống lưu vong ở Liên Xô, nhất là Ernst Bloch, mà Lukács đã quen biết từ trước đó rất lâu (hồi còn trẻ, Lukács theo học Georg Simmel). Tôi sẽ còn đặc biệt quay trở lại với Ernst Bloch, triết gia lớn đã bị lãng quên quá nhiều, một người bạn của Walter Benjamin.

Lukács là duy nhất trong câu chuyện thuộc địa hạt được gọi là "lý luận" ở toàn bộ một khu vực rộng lớn (Liên Xô, Đông Âu, nhưng cả Việt Nam). Bởi vì Lukács - đây là nghịch lý lớn - không phải một nhà lý luận, theo cách hiểu thông thường trên toàn khu vực vừa nói.


Quay trở lại với Lukács bình luận văn chương Đức, đặc biệt chuyện nó luôn luôn cần yếu tố từ bên ngoài; George Steiner sẽ tiếp tục cái nhìn ấy, khi nói rằng văn chương Đức có một đặc điểm lớn, phần trung tâm thì tăm tối nhưng sáng dần ra khi đi ra phía bên ngoài, rực rỡ nhất ở chính những chỗ nào tiếp xúc nhỏ nhất (nói đúng hơn, lỏng nhất): điều đó giải thích các nhân vật văn chương tiếng Đức lớn nhất là người Áo, người Thụy Sĩ, người Séc, etc. hay người Đức nhưng lại không thực sự Đức (Sebald chẳng hạn) và cũng nói lên toàn bộ ý nghĩa của thức thứ như Deleuze bình luận văn chương Kafka. Lukács, khi ta đã kéo rộng sự nhìn nhận ra nhiều phía, bắt đầu biểu lộ ý nghĩa chính ở đây: ta có phía Nga, phía Đức (và không chỉ vậy), nhưng đó là bởi Lukács là một người Hungary. Là một người Hungary nghĩa là phải như vậy. Một người Pháp sẽ nhìn mọi thứ tỏa ra, nhưng đó là một vị thế quá mức đặc quyền. Để là một người Hungary (hay những khu vực khác), cần phải đi ngược lại chiều của những tỏa ra, và đó là con đường của Lukács, và không chỉ Lukács, nhưng rất hiếm.





Roger Caillois: "Xã hội học về đao phủ"
Gilles Deleuze: "Văn chương và cuộc đời"
Tại sao École de Genève (1)
Georges Bataille: Kinh nghiệm trong
Trong lúc đọc Lukács (2)
Trong lúc đọc Lukács (1)
Claude Lévi-Strauss: Sống và Chín
Thibaudet-Gourmont-Du Bos: những chuỗi
Walter Benjamin: "Eduard Fuchs, nhà sưu tầm và sử gia"
Buổi thuyết trình thứ ba (và cuối cùng)
Gérard Genette
Albert Thibaudet: Sinh lý học phê bình
École de Genève (buổi thuyết trình thứ hai)
Jean Starobinski: "Quan hệ phê bình" (tài liệu cho buổi thuyết trình thứ hai)
École de Genève (buổi thuyết trình thứ nhất)
Jean Rousset: Văn chương thời kỳ baroque ở Pháp
Georges Poulet: La Poésie éclatée. Baudelaire/Rimbaud
Về Barthes
Barthes, Flaubert, Proust
Một người lãng mạn (Heinrich Heine)
Gaston Bachelard: Nước và các giấc mơ
Hugo Friedrich: Cấu trúc thơ hiện đại
Gaston Bachelard: Không khí và mộng
Roger Caillois về Montesquieu
Roland Barthes: "Sociologie và socio-logique"
Leo Spitzer: Phong cách của Marcel Proust
Jean-Pierre Richard: Hiểu biết và dịu dàng ở Stendhal
Thơ Mới: cấu trúc
Sur Barthes (1)
Roland Barthes: "Michelet, Lịch Sử và Chết"
Roland Barthes: "Văn hóa và bi kịch"
Octavio Paz về André Breton
Jean Paulhan: Les Fleurs de Tarbes
George Steiner: Râu Xanh
Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Văn xuôi thế giới
Lý thuyết văn học và triết học
Michel Foucault: "Thư viện huyền hoặc" (về Flaubert)
Albert Béguin: Tâm hồn lãng mạn và giấc mơ
Nghiên cứu văn học: con đường lý thuyết
Nhìn lại lý thuyết


4 comments:

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  2. Những cái tên của những thế hệ nghiên cứu văn học ở Việt Nam giờ thấy lại sao thấy muôn trùng xa cách giống như họ ở một thế giới nào xa lắm

    Reply
  3. quả đúng, "lý luận vh" ở vn là một con ma trơi.

    Reply
  4. "thức thứ" rất hay! nhiều thức đã mất; eg. trước kia Bible có sách Thứ Luật, mà sau này cứ thành ra "Đệ nhị Luật" mà chả hiểu bộ đệ nhất đâu rồi :P

    Reply














GEORG LUKACS AND HIS DEVIL'S PACT 


In the twentieth century it is not easy for an honest man to be a literary critic. There are so many more urgent things to be done. Criticism is an adjunct. For the art of the critic consists in bringing works of literature to the attention of precisely those readers who may least require such help; does a man read critiques of poetry or drama or fiction unless he is already highly literate on his own? On either hand, moreover, stand two tempters. To the right, Literary History, with its solid air and academic credentials. To the left, Book Reviewing—not really an art, but rather a technique committed to the implausible theory that something worth reading is published each morning in the year. Even the best of criticism may succumb to either temptation. Anxious to achieve intellectual respectability, the firm stance of the scholar, the critic may, like Sainte-Beuve, almost become a literary historian. Or he may yield to the claims of the novel and the immediate; a significant part of Henry James's critical pronouncements have not survived the trivia on which they were lavished. Good reviews are even more ephemeral than bad books.
        But there is yet another major reason why it is difficult for a serious mind, born into this troubled and perilous century, to devote its main strength to literary criticism. Ours is, pre-eminently, the season of the natural sciences. Ninety percent of all scientists are alive. The rate of conquest in the sciences, the retreat of the horizon before the inquiring spirit, is no longer in any recognizable proportion to the past. New Americas are found each day. Hence the temper of the age is penetrated with scientific values. These extend their influence and fascination far beyond the bounds of science in the classical sense. History and economics hold that they are, in some central measure, sciences; so do logic and sociology. The art historian refines instruments and techniques which he regards as scientific. The twelve-tone composer refers his austere practices to those of mathematics. Durrell has prefaced his Quartet by saying that he endeavors to translate into language and into the manner of his narrative the perspective of Relativity. He sees the city of Alexandria in four dimensions.
        This ubiquity of science has brought with it new modesties and new ambitions. Distrustful of mere impulse, science demands a mythology of rigor and proof. In splendid exchange it offers the mirage of certitude, of assured knowledge, of intellectual possession guarded against doubt. The very great scientist will reject this prospect; he will persevere in doubt even at the heart of discovery. But the hope of objective, demonstrable truth is always there and it has drawn to itself the most powerful minds of our time.
        In literary criticism there is no promised land of established fact, no Utopia of certainty. By its very nature, criticism is personal. It is susceptible neither of demonstration nor of coherent proof. It disposes of no instrument more exact than Housman's beard bristling as the great line of poetry flashed across his mind. Throughout history, critics have sought to show that their métier was a science after all, that it had objective canons and means of attaining absolute truths. Coleridge harnessed his intensely personal, often unsteady genius to the yoke of a metaphysical system. In a famous manifesto, Taine proclaimed that the study of literature was no less exact than that of the natural sciences. Dr. I. A. Richards has underwritten the hope that there is an objective psychological foundation to the act of aesthetic judgment. His most distinguished disciple, Professor Empson, has brought to the arts of literary criticism the modalities and gestures of mathematics.
        But the fact remains: a literary critic is an individual man judging a given text according to the present bent of his own spirit, according to his
mood or the fabric of his beliefs. His judgment may be of more value than yours or mine solely because it is grounded on a wider range of knowledge
or because it is presented with more persuasive clarity. It cannot be demonstrated in a scientific manner, nor can it lay claim to permanence. The winds of taste and fashion are inconstant and each generation of critics judges anew. Opinions on the merits of a work of art, moreover, are irrefutable. Balzac thought Mrs. Radcliffe to be as great a writer as Stendhal. Nietzsche, one of the acutest minds ever to concern itself with music, came to argue that Bizet was a more genuine composer than Wagner. We may feel in our bones that such views are perverse and erroneous. But we cannot refute them as a scientist can refute a false theory. And who knows but that some future age will concur in judgments which today seem untenable? The history of taste is rather like a spiral. Ideas which are at first considered outrageous or avant-garde become the reactionary and sanctified beliefs of the succeeding generation.
        Thus a modem critic finds himself in double jeopardy. Criticism has about it something of a more leisured age. It is difficult, on moral grounds, to resist the fierce solicitations of economic, social, and political issues. If some mode of barbarism and political self-destruction is threatening, writing, essays on belles-lettres seems a rather marginal pursuit. The second dilemma is intellectual. However distinguished, a critic cannot share in the principal adventure of the contemporary mind—in the acquisition of positive knowledge, in the mastery of scientific fact or the exploration of demonstrable truth. And if he is honest with himself, the literary critic knows that his judgments have no lasting validity, that they may be reversed tomorrow. Only one thing can give his work a measure of permanence: the strength or beauty of his actual style. By virtue of style, criticism may, in turn, become literature.
        The masters of contemporary criticism have tried to resolve these dilemmas in different ways. T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Thomas Mann, for example, have made of criticism an adjunct to creation. Their critical writings are commentaries on their own poetic works; mirrors which the intellect holds up to the creative imagination. In D. H. Lawrence, criticism is self-defense; though ostensibly discussing other writers, Lawrence was in fact arguing for his own conception of the art of the novel. Dr. Leavis has met the challenge head-on. He has placed his critical powers at the service of an impassioned moral vision. He is intent upon establishing standards of maturity and order in literature so that society as a whole may proceed in a more mature and orderly manner.
        But no one has brought to the moral and intellectual dilemmas besetting literary criticism a more radical solution than Georg Lukacs. In his works two beliefs are incarnate. First, that literary criticism is not a luxury, that it is not what the subtlest of American critics has called "a discourse for amateurs." But that it is, on the contrary, a central and militant force toward shaping men’s lives. Secondly, Lukacs affirms that the work of the critic is neither subjective nor uncertain. Criticism is a science with its own rigor and precision. The truth of judgment can be verified. Georg Lukacs is, of course, a Marxist. Indeed, he is the one major critical talent to have emerged from the gray servitude of the Marxist world. 
                                 II 
        In an essay, dated 1948, Lukacs put forward a significant analogy. He said that Newtonian physics gave to the consciousness of the eighteenth century its foremost liberating impulse, teaching the mind to live the great adventure of reason. According to Lukacs, this role should be performed in our own time by political economy. It is around political economy, in the Marxist sense, that we should order our understanding of human affairs. Lukacs himself came to literature via economics, as we may say that Aristotle approached drama via a systematic inquiry into morals.
        Dialectical materialism holds that literature, as all other forms of art, is an "ideological superstructure," an edifice of the spirit built upon foundations
of economic, social, and political fact. In style and content the work of art precisely reflects its material, historical basis. The Iliad was no less conditioned by social circumstance (a feudal aristocracy splintered into small rival kingdoms) than were the novels of Dickens which so strongly reflect the economics of serialization and the growth of a new mass-audience. Therefore, argues the Marxist, the progress of art is subject to laws of historical necessity. We cannot conceive of Robinson Crusoe prior to the rise of the mercantile ideal. In the decline of the French novel after Stendhal we observe the image of the larger decline of the French bourgeoisie.
        But where there is law there is science. And thus the Marxist critic cherishes the conviction that he is engaged not in matters of opinion but in determinations of objective reality. Without this conviction, Lukacs could not have turned to literature. He came of intellectual age amid the chaotic ferocity of war and revolution in central Europe. He reached Marxism over the winding road of Hegelian metaphysics. In his early writings two strains are dominant: the search for a key to the apparent turmoil of history and the endeavor of an intellectual to justify to himself the contemplative life. Like Simone Weil, of whom he often reminds me, Lukacs has the soul of a Calvinist. One can imagine how he must have striven to discipline within himself his native bent toward literature and the aesthetic side of things. Marxism afforded him the crucial possibility of remaining a literary critic without feeling that he had committed his energies to a somewhat frivolous and imprecise pursuit. In 1918 Lukacs joined the Hungarian Communist Party. During the first brief spell of Communist rule in Budapest, he served as political and cultural commissar with the Fifth Red Army. After the fall of Belá-Kun, Lukacs went into exile. He remained in Berlin until 1933 and then took refuge in Moscow. There he stayed and worked for twelve years, returning to Hungary only in 1945.
        This is a fact of obvious importance. German is Lukacs' principal language, but his use of it has grown brittle and forbidding. His style is that of exile; it has lost the habits of living speech. More essentially: Lukacs's entire tone, the fervent, at times narrow tenor of his vision, mirror the fact  of banishment. From Moscow, surrounded by a small coterie of fellow-exiles, Lukacs observed the advance of crisis over western Europe. His writings on French and German literature became an impassioned plea against the lies and barbarism of the Nazi period. This accounts for a major paradox in Lukacs' performance. A Communist by conviction, a dialectical materialist by virtue of his critical method, he has nevertheless kept his eyes resolutely on the past. Thomas Mann saw in Lukacs' works an eminent sense of tradition. Despite pressure from his Russian hosts, Lukacs gave only perfunctory notice to the much-heralded achievements of "Soviet realism." Instead, he dwelt on the great lineage of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century European poetry and fiction, on Goethe and Balzac, on Sir Walter Scott and Flaubert, on Stendhal and Heine. Where he writes of Russian literature, Lukacs deals with Pushkin or Tolstoy, not with the poetasters of Stalinism. The critical perspective is rigorously Marxist, but the choice of themes is "central European" and conservative.
        In the midst of the apparent triumph of Fascism, Lukacs maintained a passionate serenity. He strove to discover the tragic flaw, the seed of chaos, whence had sprung the madness of Hitler. One of his works, in itself a strident, often mendacious book, is entitled The Destruction of Reason (1955). It is a philosophers attempt to resolve the mystery which Thomas Mann dramatized in Doctor Faustus. How was the tide of darkness loosed on the German soul? Lukacs traces the origins of disaster back to the irrationalism of Schelling. But at the same time he insisted on the integrity and life-force of humane values. Being a Communist, Lukacs had no doubt that socialism would ultimately prevail. He regarded it as his particular task to marshal toward the moment of liberation the spiritual resources inherent in European literature and philosophy. When Heine's poems were once again read in Germany, there was available an essay by Lukacs building a bridge between the future and the scarce-remembered world of liberalism to which Heine had belonged.
        Thus Lukacs has put forward a solution to the two-fold dilemma of the modern critic. As a Marxist, he discerns in literature the action of economic, social, and political forces. This action follows on certain laws of historical necessity. To Lukacs criticism is a science even before it is an art. His preference of Balzac over Flaubert is not a  matter of personal taste or fiat. It is an objective determination arrived at through an analysis of material fact. Secondly, he has given his writing an intense immediacy. It is rooted in the political struggles and social circumstances of the time. His writings on literature, like those of Trotsky, are instruments of combat. By understanding the dialectic of Goethe's Faust, says Lukacs, a man is better equipped to read the sanguinary riddles of the present. The fall of France in 1940 is writ large in the Comédie humaine. Lukacs' arguments are relevant to issues that are central in our lives. His critiques are not a mere echo to literature. Even where it is sectarian and polemic, a book by Lukacs has a curious nobility. It possesses what Matthew Arnold called "high seriousness."                                 
III

   But in practice, what are Lukacs' major achievements as a critic and historian of ideas?
       Ironically, one of his most influential works dates from a period in which his Communism was tainted with heresy. History and Class Consciousness (1923) is a rather legendary affair. It is a livre maudit, a burnt book, of which relatively few copies have survived.* We find  in it a fundamental analysis of the "reification" of man (Verdinglichung), the degradation of the human person to a statistical object through industrial and political processes. The work was condemned by the Party and withdrawn by the author. But it has led a tenacious underground life and certain writers, such as Sartre and Thomas Mann, have always regarded it as Lukacs' masterpiece.
        To my mind, however, his pre-eminence lies elsewhere: in the essays and monographs which he wrote during the 1930's and 1940's and which began appearing in a row of imposing volumes after the end of the war. The essential Lukacs is contained in the  study of Goethe and His Time (1947), in the essays on Russian Realism in World Literature (1949), in the volume entitled German Realists of the Nineteenth Century (1951), in the book on Balzac, Stendhal, and Zola (1952), and in the great work on The Historical Novel (1955). To this should be added a number of massive works of  a more strictly philosophic character, such as the Contributions to a History of Aesthetics (1954), and what is perhaps Lukacs' magnum opus, the study of Hegel (the first volume of which appeared in 1948).
        It is impossible to give a brief yet adequate account of so great a range of material. But a number of motifs do stand out as classic enrichments of our understanding of literature.
      There is Lukacs' analysis of the decline of the French novel. He is the foremost living student of Balzac and sees in the Comédie humaine the master edifice of realism. His reading of Les Illusions perdues is exemplary of the manner in which the vision of the historian is brought to bear on the fabric of a work of art. It is this vision which leads directly to Lukacs' condemnation of Flaubert. Between Balzac and Flaubert falls the defeat of 1848. The brightness of liberal hopes has faded and France is moving toward the tragedy of the Commune. Balzac looks on the world with the primitive ardor of conquest. The Comédie humaine built an empire in language as Napoleon did in fact. Flaubert looks on the world as through a glass contemptuously. In Madame Bovary the glitter and artifice of words has become an end in itself. When Balzac describes a hat, he does so because a man is wearing it. The account of Charles Bovary's cap, on the other hand, is a piece of technical bravado; it exhibits Flaubert's command of the French sartorial vocabulary. But the thing is dead. And behind this contrast in the art of the novel, Lukacs discerns the transformation of society through mature capitalism. In a pre-industrial society, or where industrialism remains on a small scale, man's relationship to the physical objects that surround him has a natural immediacy. The latter is destroyed by mass-production. The furnishings of our lives are consequent on processes too complex and impersonal for anyone to master. Isolated from sensuous reality, repelled by the inhumane drabness of the factory world, the writer seeks refuge in satire or in romantic visions of the past. Both retreats are exemplified in Flaubert: Bouvard et Pecuchet is an encyclopaedia of contempt, whereas Salammbô can be characterized as the reverie of a somewhat sadistic antiquarian.
       Out of this dilemma arose what Lukacs defines as the illusion of naturalism, the belief that an artist can recapture a sense of reality by mere force of accumulation. Where the realist selects, the naturalist enumerates. Like the schoolmaster in Dickens' Hard Times, he demands facts and more facts. Zola had an inexhaustible appetite for circumstantial detail, a passion for time-tables and inventories (one recalls the catalogue of cheeses in Le Ventrede Paris). He had the gusto to breathe life into a stockmarket quotation. But his theory of the novel, argues Lukacs, was radically false. It leads to the death of the imagination and to reportage.
       Lukacs does not compromise with his critical vision. He exalts Balzac, a man of royalist and clerical principles. He condemns Zola, a progressive in the political sense, and a forerunner of "socialist realism".
      Even more original and authoritative is Lukacs treatment of the historical novel. This is a literary genre to which Western criticism has given only cursory attention. It is difficult to get the range of historical fiction into proper focus. At times, its head is in the mythological stars, but more often the bulk of the thing is to be found in the good earth of commercial trash. The very notion brings to mind improbable gallants pursuing terrified yet rather lightly clad young ladies across flamboyant dust-wrappers. Only very rarely, when a writer such as Robert Graves intervenes, do we realize that the historical novel has distinct virtues and a noble tradition. It is to these that Lukacs addresses himself in a major study, The Historical Novel.
        The form arose out of a crisis in European sensibility. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic era penetrated the consciousness of ordinary men with a sense of the historical. Whereas Frederick the Great had asked that wars be conducted so as not to disturb the normal flow of events, Napoleon's armies marched across Europe and back reshaping the world in their path. History was no longei  matter for archives and princes; it had become the fabric of daily life. To this change the Waverley novels gave a direct and prophe response. Here again, Lukacs is on fresh ground. We do not take Walter Scott altogether seriously. That is most probably an injustice. If we care to leam how deliberate an artist Scott was, and how penetrating a sense of history is at work in Quentin Durward or The Heart of Midlothian, we do best to read a book written in Moscow by a Hungarian critic.
        Lukacs goes on to explore the development of historical fiction in the art of Manzoni, Pushkin, and Victor Hugo. His reading of Thackeray is particularly suggestive. He argues that the antiquarian elements in Henry Esmond and The Virginians convey Thackeray's critique of contemporary social and political conditions. By taking the periwig off the eighteenth century, the novelist is satirizing the failsehood of Victorian conventions (what a Marxist calls zeitgenossische Apologetik). I happen to believe that Lukacs is misreading Thaceray. But his error is fruitful, as the errors of good criticism usually are, and it leads to a most original idea. Lukacs observes that archaic speech, however deftly handled, does not in fact bring the past closer to our imaginings. The classic masters of historical fiction write narrative and dialogue in the language of their own day. They create the illusion of the historical present through force of realized imagination and because they themselves experience the relationship between past history and their own time as one of live continuity. The historical novel falters when this sense of continuity no longer prevails, when the writer feels that the forces of history are beyond his rational comprehension. He will turn to an increasingly remote or exotic past in protest against contemporaneous life. Instead of historical fiction we find laborious archaeology. Compare the poetics of history implicit in The Charterhouse of Parma with the erudite artifice of Salammô. Amid lesser craftsmen than Flaubert this sense of- artifice is reinforced by the use of archaic language. The novelist endeavors make his vision of the past authentic by writing dialogue in what he supposes to have been the syntax and style of the relevant period. This is a feeble device. Would Shakespeare have done better to let Richard II speak in Chaucerian English?
        Now as Lukacs points out, this decline from the classical conception of the historical novel coincides precisely with the change from realism to naturalism. In both instances, the vision of the artist loses its spontaneity; he is, in some manner, alien to his material. As a result, matters of technique become pre-eminent at the expense of substance. The image of Glasgow in Rob Roy is historically perceptive, but more significantly it arises out of the social and personal conflicts of the narrative. It is not a piece of antiquarian restoration. But that is exactly what the image of Carthage in Salammbô is. Flaubert has built a sumptuous hollow shell around an autonomous action; as Sainte-Beuve noted, it is difficult to reconcile the psychoogical motivations of the characters with the alleged historical setting. Sir Walter Scott believed in the rational, progressive unfolding of English history. He saw in the events of his own time a natural consequence of energies released during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Flaubert, on the contrary, turned to antique Carthage or Alexandria because he found his own epoch intolerable. Being out of touch with the present—he saw in the Commune a delayed spasm of the Middle Ages—he failed to achieve an imaginative realization of the past.
        Whether or not one agrees with this analysis, its originality and breadth of implication are obvious. It illustrates Lukacs' essential practice: the close study of a literary text in the light of far-reaching philosophic and political questions. The writer or particular work is the point of departure. From it Lukacs' argument moves outward traversing complex ground. But the central idea or theme is kept constantly in view. Finally, the dialectic closes in, marshaling its examples and persuasions.
        Thus the essay on the Goethe-Schiller correspondence deals primarily with the vexed topic of the nature of literary forms. The discussion of Holderlin's Hyperion gives rise to a study of the crucial yet ambiguous role of the Hellenic ideal in the history of the German spirit. In his several considerations of Thomas Mann, Lukacs is concerned with what he takes to be the paradox of the bourgeois artist in a Marxist century. Lukacs argues that Mann chose to stay outside the stream of history while being aware of the tragic nature of his choice. The essay on Gottfried Keller is an attempt to clarify the very difficult problem of the arrested development in German literature after the death of Goethe. In all these instances, we cannot dissociate the particular critical judgment from the larger philosophic and social context. Because the argument is so close and tightly woven, it is difficult to give representative quotations from Lukacs' works. Perhaps a short passage from a paper on Kleist can convey the dominant tone:

Kleist's conception of passion brings drama close to the art of the short story. A heightened singularity is presented in a manner underlining its accidental uniqueness. In the short story this is entirely legitimate. For that is a literarygenre specifically designed to make real the immense role of coincidence and contingency in human life. But if the action represented remains on the level of coincidence... and is given the dignity of tragic drama without any proof of its objective necessity, the effect will inevitably be one of contradiction and dissonance. Therefore, Kleist's plays do not point to the high road of modern drama. That road leads from Shakespeare, via the experiments of Goethe and Schiller to Pushkin's Boris Godunow. Due to the ideological decline of the bourgeoisie, it had no adequate continuation. Kleist's plays represent an irrational byway. Isolated individual passion destroys the organic relationship between the fate of the individual person and social-historical necessity. With the dissolution of that relationship, the poetic and philosophic foundations of genuine dramatic conflict are also destroyed. The basis of drama becomes thin and narrow, purely personal and private.... To be sure Kleistian passions are representative of a bourgeois society. Their inner dialectic mirrors typical conflicts of individuals who have become "windowless monads" in a  bourgeois milieu.
       The reference to Leibniz is characteristic. The quality of Lukacs' mind is philosophic, in the technical sense. Literature concentrates and gives concretion to those mysteries of meaning with which the philosopher is eminently concerned. In this respect, Lukacs belongs to a notable tradition. The Poetics are philosophic criticism (drama seen as the theoretic model of spiritual action); so are the critical writings of Coleridge, Schiller, and Croce. If the going is heavy, it is because the matter of the argument is persistently complex. Like other philosopher-critics, Lukacs engages questions that have bedeviled inquiry since Plato. What are the primary distinctions between epic and drama? What is "reality" in a work of art, the ancient riddle of shadow outweighing substance? What is the relationship between poetic imagination and ordinary perception? Lukacs raises the problem of the "typical" personage. Why do certain characters in literature—Falstaff, Faust, Emma Bovary—possess a force of life greater than that of a multitude of other imagined beings and, indeed, of most living creatures? Is it because they are archetypes in whom universal traits are gathered and given memorable shape?
        Lukacs' inquiries draw on an extraordinary range of evidence. He appears to have mastered nearly the whole of modern European and Russian literature. This yields a rare association of tough, philosophic exactitude with largeness of vision. By contrast, Dr. Leavis, who is no less of a moralist and close reader than Lukacs, is deliberately provincial. In point of universality, Lukacs' peer would be Edmund Wilson.
        But there is an obverse to the medal. Lukacs' criticism has its part of blindness and injustice. At times, he writes with acrimonious obscurity as if to 'declare that the study of literature should be no pleasure, but a discipline and science, thorny of approach as are other sciences. This has made him insensible to the great musicians of language. Lukacs lacks ear; he does not possess that inner tuning-fork which enables Ezra Pound to choose unerringly the instant of glory in a long poem or forgotten romance. In Lukacs' omissions of Rilke there is an obscure protest against the marvel of the poets language. Somehow, he writes too wondrously well. Though he would deny it, moreover, Lukacs does incline toward the arch-error of Victorian criticism: the narrative content, the quality of the fable, influence his judgment. Its failure to include Proust, for example, casts doubt on Lukacs' entire view of the French novel. But the actual plot of the Recherche du temps perdu, the luxuriance and perversities which Proust recounts, obviously outrage Lukacs' austere morality. Marxism is a puritanical creed.
        Like all critics, he has his particular displeasures. Lukacs detests Nietzsche and is insensitive to the genius of Dostoevsky. But being a consequent Marxist, he makes a virtue of blindness and gives to his condemnations an objective, systematic value. Dr. Leavis is evidently ill at ease with the works of Melville. T.S. Eliot has conducted a lengthy and subtle quarrel with the poetics of Milton. But in it, the essential courtesies are observed. Lukacs' arguments go ad hominem. Infuriated by the world-view of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, he consigns their persons and their labors to the spiritual inferno of pre-Fascism. This is, of course, a grotesque misreading of the facts.
        Of late, these defects of vision have become more drastic. They mar The Destruction of Reason and the essays on aesthetics which have appeared since that time. Doubtless, there is a question of age. Lukacs was seventy in 1955 and his hatreds have stiffened. In part, there is the fact
that Lukacs is haunted by the ruin of German and western European civilization. He is searching for culprits to hand over to the Last Judgment of history. But above all, there is, I think, an intense personal drama. At the outset of his brilliant career, Lukacs made a Devil's pact with historical necessity. The daemon promised him the secret of objective truth. He gave him the power to confer blessing or pronounce anathema in the name of revolution and "the laws of history." But since Lukacs' return from exile, the Devil has been lurking about, asking for his fee. In October 1956, he knocked loudly at the door.
                                 IV
     We touch here on matters of a personal nature. Lukacs' role in the Hungarian uprising and the subsequent monasticism of his personal life are
of obvious historical interest. But they contain an element of private agony to which an outsider has little access. A man who loses his religion loses his beliefs. A Communist for whom history turns somersaults is in danger of losing his reason. Presumably, that is worse. Those who have not experienced it, however, can hardly realize what such a collapse of values is like. Moreover, the motives of action in the Lukacs case are obscure.
        He accepted the post of Minister of Culture in the Nagy government. Not, I think, to be among the leaders of an anti-Soviet movement, but rather to preserve the Marxist character of Hungarian intellectual life and to guard its radical inheritance against the reviving forces of the Catholic-agrarian right. More essentially, perhaps, because a Lukacs cannot stand to one side of history even when the latter assumes absurd forms. He cannot be a spectator. But on November 3, one day before the Red Army re-conquered Budapest, Lukacs resigned from the cabinet. Why? Had he decided that a
Marxist should not oppose the will of the Soviet Union in which, for better or worse, the future of dialectical materialism is incarnate? Was he persuaded to withdraw from a doomed cause by friends anxious for his life? We do not know.
        After a period of exile in Rumania, Lukacs was allowed to return to his home. But he was no longer permitted to teach and his past work became the object of derisive and increasingly fierce attack. This attack actually pre-dates the October rising. Hungary had its miniature version of Zhdanov, a ferocious little man called Joseph Revai. Originally a pupil of Lukacs, but later jealous of the master's eminence, he published a pamphlet on Literature and Popular Democracy in 1954. In it, he drew up a Stalinist indictment of Lukacs' life-work. He accused Lukacs of having consistently neglected contemporary Soviet literature. He charged that Lukacs' concentration on Goethe and Balzac was dangerously obsolete. Even a mediocre novel by a Communist, declares Revai, is infinitely preferable to a great novel by a reactionary or pre-Marxist. Lukacs places "formalistic" literary ideals above class and Party interests. His style is inaccessible to a proletarian reader.
         After October, these accusations became more strident. Hungarian and East German publicists revived the old charges of heresy made against Lukacs' early writings. They recalled his youthful admiration for Stefan, George and hunted down traces of "bourgeois idealism" in his mature works.
Yet the old man was not touched and through one of those odd, Kafkaesque judgments sometimes passed by Communist regimes, he was even allowed to publish a small volume of essays with a West German press (Wider den missverstandenen Realismus, Hamburg, 1958).
        Lukacs' relative immunity may have been due to the interest which socialist intellectuals outside the iron curtain have taken in the case. But surely, the more important question is this: how did Lukacs himself regard his beliefs and achievements in the light of the October tragedy? Was he drawn toward the great limbo of disillusion? Did his gods fail him at the last?
     Such questions cannot be urged very far without impertinence; they involve that inward place of vital illusion which preserves the religious or revolutionary conscience. Lukacs' judgment of the Hungarian revolution is contained in a preface which he wrote in April 1957: "Important events have occurred in Hungary and elsewhere, compelling us to re-think many problems connected with Stalin's life work. The reaction to the latter, both in the bourgeois world and in socialist countries, is taking the guise of a revision of the teachings of Marx and Lenin. This certainly constitutes the principal threat to Marxism-Leninism." The words seem desperately beside the point. But let us keep one thing firmly in mind: to men such as Koestler or Malraux, Communism was a temporary expedient of passion. Lukacs' Communism is the root-fiber of his intelligence. Whatever interpretation he puts on the crisis of October 1956 will have been arrived at  within the framework of a dialectical vision of history. A man who has lost his sight continues to view his surroundings in terms of remembered images. In order to survive intellectually, Lukacs must have hammered out some kind of inner compromise; such punitive forays into one's own consciousness are characteristic of the Marxist condition. His comment about the threat of revisionism gives us a lead. If I interpret him at all accurately, he is saying that the Hungarian episode is a final extension, a reductio ad absurdum of Stalinist policy. But that policy was a false departure from Marxist-Leninist doctrine and the violence of its enactment merely proves its bankruptcy. Therefore, the proper response to the Hungarian disaster does not imply an abandonment of Marxist first principles. On the contrary, we must return to those principles in their authentic formulation. Or as one of the insurrectionist leaders put it: "Let us oppose the Red army in the name of the Leningrad workers' Soviet of 1917;' Perhaps there is in this idea that old and most deceptive dream: Communism divorced from the particular ambitions and obscurantism of Russian domination.
        Lukacs has always held himself responsible to history. This has enabled him to produce a body of critical and philosophic work intensely expressive of the cruel and serious spirit of the age. Whether or not we share his beliefs, there can be no doubt that he has given to the minor Muse of criticism a notable dignity. His late years of solitude and recurrent danger only emphasize what I observed at the outset: in the twentieth century it is not easy for an honest man to be a literary critic. But then, it never was.
G. Steiner 
 [* History and Class Consciousness is now available in French. It is also being re-published in the West German edition of Lukacs' collected writings, together with other early works. These are among his finest philosophic achievements and show him to be the true predecessor to Walter Benjamin. The cultural authorities in the East allow such Western publication of heretical but prestigious Marxist books; a characteristic touch of "Byzantine policy.]

 G. Steiner

 
22 March 2013

The Captive Mind of György Lukács


In his magisterial three volume history, Main Currents of Marxism, Leszek Kołakowski wrote:

„Lukács’s personality and his role in the history of Marxism are, and no doubt will be for a long time, a matter of lively controversy. It is agreed however that he was the most outstanding Marxist philosopher during the period of Stalinist orthodoxy… But it is a matter of dispute whether he was a true philosopher of Stalinism, an intellectual exponent of that particular system, or rather, as some would have it and as he himself often suggested in later times, a kind of Trojan horse – an ostensibly orthodox disciple who, under the pretext of Stalinism, was in fact purveying a “genuine”, non-Stalinist form of Marxism. The question is indeed extremely complicated.”

Let us attempt to resolve the controversy and answer the question whether Lukács was a true philosopher of Stalinism or whether he symbolised for many intellectuals in Eastern Europe all that is progressive and humanistic in Marxism. But above all, there is an intense personal, tragic drama in Lukács’s life that contains an element of private agony and humiliation to which an outsider has little access.

It was in the post-1917 years that the tragedy of Lukács unfolded as the Party-state deliberately, diabolically, step-by-step perfected the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a form of the total debasement and enslavement of man and society. In 1918, when at the outset of his brilliant career, Lukács, an aspiring Socrates turned Bolshevik, he made a Devil’s pact with historical necessity. After 1933 when Lukács emigrated to Stalin’s Russia, the Devil moved in full-time to the communal apartment he occupied in Moscow, to look for his fee. In 1941, the Devil knocked loudly at the door. At 3:00 a.m. on 21 June 1941, the telephone rang in the headquarters of the People’s Commissariat for State Security (NKVD) at Lubyanka, or Dom Dva, House Number 2. The caller, Vsevolod Merkulov, a leading figure of the “Beria gang”, summoned the chiefs of all the major departments to his office on the third floor of Lubyanka. Merkulov formally announced that war had broken out, and that the German army had attacked on all fronts. He ordered each department head to propose war measures for immediate implementation. Molotov announced the invasion on Soviet radio at noon on 22 June.

In the Stalinist claque – Lavrenti Beria, Merkulov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Anastas Mikoyan, Nikita Khrushchev and Andrei Vyshinsky – the first three played a key role in the unfolding chain of events that engulfed and almost doomed Lukács. The “war measures” proposed by Beria’s deputy Merkulov were discussed in the Kremlin’s inner sanctum. By 25 June, the dossier on Lukács was on the desk of Merkulov. The incriminating information in the dossier formed the basis for the warrant of Lukács’s arrest, signed by Merkulov.

That Merkulov played a key role in Lukács’s arrest is confirmed by Georgi Dimitrov, head of the Communist International (Comintern) and a trusted member of Stalin’s inner circle. Dimitrov’s diary entry (12 July 1941) reads: “Merkulov reported that Lukács and [László] Rudas have been arrested because in January of 1941 [actually, August 1940], a Hungarian intelligence agent, who was caught at the border, confessed that he had been told to make contact with Lukács and Rudas…”. To give an example of the closeness of Stalin and Dimitrov, consider a diary entry from 11 December 1938: “New instructions, an assignment from Stalin, to work up instructions regarding arrests”.1

This “intelligent agent” was a mysterious figure known as István Tímár. The bare facts are these. Born to a family of Jewish intellectuals in Budapest in 1918, Tímár, a socialist sympathiser, was allegedly sent by a Trotskyite group in Budapest to establish contact with Lukács in Moscow. Under torture, Tímár confessed that a counter-revolutionary organisation in Budapest recruited him to establish contact with Comintern members in Moscow, notably Lukács. In his confession, Tímár incriminated Lukács as the “secret agent” of the Hungarian intelligence service.

Tímár was accused of espionage under Article 58 (6) of the Criminal Code of the RSRSR. The article defined espionage thus: the transmission to foreign states of information classified as state secrets is punishable by the “supreme measure of social defence – death by shooting”. The Military Collegium, chaired by the notorious Stalinist judge S. S. Ulrikh, found Tímár guilty. He received the supreme measure. On 6 July 1941, Tímár was summarily shot in the Lubyanka and his body buried in a mass grave. The fabricated evidence extracted under torture from Tímár led to Lukács’s arrest on 29 June. His wife Gertrud, his daughter Anna and the house-porter Alexei Lunin all witnessed his arrest, complete with intrusive brutality, the claws of terror markedly unsheathed, the insolent, uninvited entrance of absolute power in Lukács’s apartment, the emptying out of drawers of cabinets, desktop swept clean of papers, letters and manuscripts.

The confiscated items also included a Royal typewriter, a pocket watch, a worn silk tie, library passes, two savings books with deposits totalling 24,820 roubles, and subscription to Five-Year Plan bonds, totalling 3,900 roubles. The worldly possessions of Lukács amounted to 28,720 roubles. Not a paltry sum when one considers that the “official” salary of Stalin was 1,000 roubles a month.

As the door slammed behind Lukács in his cell in Lubyanka, he must have asked himself the question: What is to be done if it is midnight in the century? What is life, what is history and destiny at a time when thought itself is glacial like the midnight sun on the skull? Lukács knew that he was in an isolation cell, and, if found guilty of “espionage” and “treason against the homeland”, he was to stay there until he was shot.

It is not surprising that Stalin should be in the Kremlin, but rather that Lukács, the greatest Marxist next to Bukharin, should be in Lubyanka, locked in a small six by six feet windowless cell for prisoners about to be executed. Above the spy- hole of his cell door was a card with his name on it: Georgi Ossipovich, No. 815. His jailers gave Lukács, a naturalised Soviet citizen, a new name: Georgi Ossipovich. Free should the Marxist philosopher be – free and brave.

A meteoric fame that falls as quickly as it came – Georgi Ossipovich in a solitary cell where he was preceded by Nikolai Bukharin. Lukács was in Moscow when the Great Terror, 1936–1938, and repression that marked Stalin’s reign swept Bukharin to his doom. He was shot in Lubyanka prison, 1938, and cremated at the Donskoy Monastery.

One day Bukharin was living in the Kremlin, close to Stalin, working on his manuscript of Goethe’s Faust, the next day he was passing through the gates of the Lubyanka, handing over his possessions, being stripped, having his rectum checked, and then being locked in a cell. He was not tortured.

One day Lukács was living in a small apartment in Moscow, with his wife and daughter, working on his manuscript of Goethe and His Age, the next day he was passing through the gates of the Lubyanka, handing over his possessions, being stripped, having his rectum checked, and then being locked in a cell. He was not tortured. From a historical standpoint, this strangest of all strange things, the presence of Goethe and his Faust in Lubyanka remains a spectacle for the gods. The “classical” Goethe and his intellectual and philosophical Faust have accompanied Lukács through his life. They were with him, in spirit, in Lubyanka. We are not surprised then that in Darkness at Noon, Koestler wrote: “On Rubashov’s knee lay a book: Goethe’s Faust in the Reclaim’s Universal Edition”.

Where is this to end? It ended with Bukharin and Lukács, the armed and unarmed prophets in love with Goethe, who decided not to live but to wager on the creation of a new world. Like Faust, Bukharin and Lukács experienced a moment so beautiful that they wished it to be prolonged – the revolutionary dawn of the new world.

If ever to the moment I shall say:

Beautiful moment, do not pass away!
Then you may forge your chains to bind me,
Then I will put my life behind me,
And let them hear my death-knell toll…”

But now, I, Georgi Ossipovich Lukacs, sit in a solitary cell and wonder what I have done. What sort of prison hole is this? How uselessly I have laboured to collect, to interpret and to enrich Marxism with the treasures of human intellect. But now I, Georgi Ossipovich Lukacs, sit in a solitary cell, silently shifting the centre of gravity of life out of life into the “Beyond” – into nothingness.”

Neither his education, nor his credentials as a revolutionary Marxist or his experience as militant communist prepared him in the slightest for the greatest trial of his life: being arrested, accused of espionage, and interrogated by Stalin’s henchmen who followed a simple instruction: “Arrest, try, shoot”.

Lukács was convinced that he was spared the long-drawn-drama of Bukharin, whom Stalin’s lead prosecutor in the Great Trials, Andrei Vyshinsky compared to Judas Iscariot, a “cross between a fox and a pig”, and accused him of having plotted to murder Lenin, because he refused to answer Bukharin’s siren call. As Lukács put it shortly before his death (1971) when he recorded an autobiographical sketch on tape:

In Moscow, Bukharin gave me a friendly reception and arranged contact. But I turned it down. Were it not for that fortunate circumstance, I would have been drawn into the Stalinist purges… I thought the trials monstrous, but consoled myself by saying that we had taken up sides with Robespierre, even though the trial of Danton, from the legal point of view, was not much better than the trial of Bukharin… Danton was never a traitor and never lost faith in the republic, as Robespierre claimed. The same could not so clearly have been said of the accused in the Stalin trials… I consider him [Bukharin] to have been a man of extraordinary integrity. I believe he was a bad Marxist, but that does not provide grounds for executing him.

Lukács went even further. He considered the Great Trials a “historical necessity” and, as late as 1962, said that despite the “mistakes of Stalin” it did not follow that the victims of Stalin’s purges, like Trotsky and his followers, should be rehabilitated politically.

Casually, Lukács drew the cynical parallel: “Stalin used the same weapons against Trotsky as Robespierre had used against Danton”. No wonder, Lukács ever questioned the Leninist foundations on which the whole Stalinist system was based, nor did he object to the principle of one-party dictatorship. To the end of his life, he was categorical: the Party cannot and must not be subject to public control.

Lukács had no sympathy for Bukharin, who, as an alternative to Stalin, believed that in socialism it is possible to govern without the use of terror, to allow free cultural development, to show respect for art, science and national tradition. It is difficult not to agree with Kołakowski’s conclusion that Lukács only criticised Stalinism “from within Stalinism itself”.

Despite all the revelations about Stalin and Stalinism and Lukács’s own intimate, terrible knowledge of the Soviet despot, who signed long lists of death sentences day after day, Lukács could still write as late as 1970:

In the Soviet Union of the 1930s many of us, thinking of Stalin, heaved a sigh, “Ah, si le roi le savait”. Of course we ultimately realised that Stalin inhibited the development of independent thinking. I clearly saw that all the decisions in this historical context, everything, and everything – be it the most sacred personal values or my own work – must be unconditionally subordinated to the interest and existence of socialism… A convinced communist had one choice: Right or wrong, my party. We had to express solidarity with Stalin fighting Fascism. This solidarity transcended everything else – it was our sacred duty.2

Practically on his death bed, Lukács could still reaffirm his conviction: “I have always thought that the worst form of socialism was better to live than the best form of capitalism”. What a monstrous paradox faith is, a paradox capable of making a tyrannical system into an ideal well pleasing to History, a paradox which gives us Lukács in Lubyanka, which no thought can grasp because faith begins where thinking leaves off. No one captured this paradox better than Victor Serge, who knew Lukács during his Vienna exile and later in Moscow:

I held Lukács in the greatest esteem; indeed, I owe him a great deal. A former university teacher in Budapest, and then commissar to the Red division in the front line, Lukács was a philosopher. Steeped in the works of Hegel, Marx and Freud, and possessing a free-ranging and vigorous mind… In him I saw a first-rate brain which could have endowed Communism with a true intellectual greatness if it had developed as a social movement instead of degenerating into a movement of solidarity with an authoritarian Power. Lukács’s thinking led him to a totalitarian vision of Marxism within which he united all aspects of human life; his theory of the Party could be taken as either superb or disastrous, depending on the circumstances.3

It was this “authoritarian Power” that arrested and confined Lukács to Lubyanka for sixty days. Lubyanka, like death itself, equalises all whom it engulfs: be it Viktor Serge, Bukharin, or Lukács. As for the “extraordinary integrity” of Bukharin which Lukács admired, here is an excerpt from Bukharin’s letter to Stalin (10 December 1937):

I am writing you for your personal information. I cannot leave this life without writing you the last lines because I am in the grip of torments which you should know about… There is something great and bold about the political idea of a general purge. When I was hallucinating, I saw you several times and once I saw Nadezhda Sergeevna [Stalin’s late wife]. She approached me and said: “What have they done with you, Nikolai Ivanovich?” ... Oh, Lord, if only there were some device which would have made it possible for you to see my soul flayed and ripped open! If only you could see how I am attached to you, body and soul. If I am to receive the death sentence, then I implore you beforehand, I entreat you, by all that you hold dear, not to have me shot. Let me drink poison in my cell instead (let me have morphine so that I can fall asleep and never wake up)… Have pity on me. Surely you’ll understand – knowing me as well as you do… So if the verdict is death, let me have a cup of morphine. I implore you.”

Though Lukács pleaded for no “cup of morphine” in Lubyanka, he too learned and endured what it means to be a great Marxist, undergoing the trial of faith. Consider the mise en scène in Lubyanka. Lukács’s manuscript on Goethe and His Age is incinerated; “destroyed by fire”, states the inventory which the KGB made of the seized papers of Lukács. From the central Lubyanka prison in the late 1930s, a soot-stained chimney sprinkled Moscow with the ash of incinerated manuscripts. The loss of the Goethe MS haunted Lukács for years to come. In preface to Goethe and His Age (1947), he wrote:
The Goethe problem cannot be exhausted, even if my book were to provide detailed answers to all these questions. A special monograph on Goethe would be necessary for that. For years I planned, and even prepared such a monograph. Unfortunately, all the material for it was lost in an unfortunate turn of events during the war, so that I must temporarily forego the completion of this task.”

The “unfortunate turn of events” is an abstraction which conceals Lukács’s two months internment in Lubyanka, 29 June–25 August 1941. Lukács’s deliberate act of concealment is not defensible by any account, least of all ethically or morally. His ethical task is to unwrap himself from this concealment and disclose for us his own experience and conduct. Lukács’s act of choosing to stay in concealment neither exemplifies his integrity nor does it arouse my admiration.

Lukács does nothing for transparency or truth. He is concealed, he is silent. His glorification of the totalitarian system is so passionate, his faith, his dogmatism is so absolute, and almost sublime in its perfection. It is this, this faith, this dogmatism that determines Lukács’s silence. For there was no one in Stalin’s Russia, with its Great Trials and Great Terror who had experienced, who knew so much and said so little or remained so silent as Lukács. The reality, the truth displaced by his pitiable lie is past belief. When asked if in Stalin’s Russia he was ever arrested, Lukács replied: “I had a small apartment; it did not interest the KGB”.

That poison, concealment and lie extends much further than one thinks. We have discovered the arrogant dogmatic instinct wherever Lukács considers himself to be a “Marxist” – wherever he assumes, by virtue of a true believer, a right to cast a superior look at Stalin’s actuality above which the mind and soul soar in pure self-sufficiency.

The fundamental rule of Lukács’s life was to ignore reality. He clearly saw that the “new world” he was so passionately, so actively helping to build was horrifyingly unlike the original concept. Facing his own torment in the solitary cell, he must have realised that life was deviating from the blueprints. But the blueprints had been declared sacrosanct and his absolute faith forbade him to compare them with what was actually coming into being. In Lubyanka, Lukács had a vivid impression of the “new world” as it was constructed in front of his very eyes, and was hence one of the first to learn where the threat lay. No one who has not shared Lukács’s experience in Lubyanka knows what socialism with Stalin’s face was like.

Lukács’s autobiography, Lived Thought, dictated when he was close to death, is to the modern sensibility irritatingly unrevealing. He constructs a self that is the sum total of public actions: Marxist, Party ideologue, revolutionary. He locates his essential self in the arena of political, theoretical accomplishments rather than in private life and private emotions. Lukács dreaded and feared exposing himself.

If the whole art of government consists in the art of being honest, the triple injunctions to please yet persuade, to use self control and yet stimulate passions in others, to reveal one self and yet efface one self, then Lukács failed to meet this exhausting challenge.

The great moral rule of sincerity is that we speak nothing contrary to truth, that coming before the tribunal of humanity is, as Socrates exemplifies, the quintessential moment of one’s moral existence. Experience teaches us that truth is greater than a political-ideological or even a social ideal. Lukács’s true virtue inheres less in a transparent openness than in concealment.

In his body of work the message was never one of intellectual emancipation from received authorities, the Party or ideology, in the interest of common good. He embodied the repressive orthodoxy of Marxist thought, a position that stemmed from his belief that absolute certainty, never to be interpreted or corrected, in all matters was the first step toward truth. Absolutist instinct and certitude are doubtless noble ideals, but where on this moonlit and utopia-visited planet are they found?

The problem I raise here is Lukács’s concept of truth and his interaction with his disciples. No one expressed it more poignantly than George Steiner:

„Masters have destroyed their disciples both psychologically and, in rare cases, physically. They have broken their spirits, consumed their hopes, and exploited their dependence and individuality. The domain of the soul has its vampires… By a process of interaction, of osmosis, the Master learns from his disciples as he teaches them. The intensity of the dialogue generates friendship in the highest sense. It can enlist both the clear-sightedness and unreason of love… There are disciples who have felt unable to survive their Masters.”4

But there are disciples who have not only survived their Masters, but transcended and outgrew them. Consider Ágnes Heller, the most brilliant and renowned disciple of Lukács. In her autobiography she is forthright. “I would not have remained in the Party had I not met Lukács. The communism the Party represented had no appeal for me. Lukács embodied the Party. Therefore I identified communism and later Marxism with Lukács. It is through Lukács that I became a Marxist”.5

Heller, face to face with world-historical individuality, draws back the curtain on the Master’s self-deceptive perfection.

"For Lukács, the Party and its cause transcended everything else. But personally he insisted we should love him more than the Party. We must place his truth above the truth of the Party. It is not that he wanted us to love the Party more than his truth, which would have been obvious. No, he insisted we must accept he is right. The truth of the Party is not the truth… He was a traditional philosopher. He truly believed that the world spirit resided in his head. It cannot take up residence in anywhere else than in the philosophy of Lukács. The important events are mere phenomena whose substance or essences indwell in his mind.”6

Here was a revelation of the human spirit, a drama of intellect. Inevitably, Heller considered Lukács “less of my Master, instead he became a dear old man”. The onetime Master now strikes her as a moth-eaten old man. All rights belong to youth, to its Icarian flight and creation of new worlds. Deference and discipleship have crumbled to dust.

Enough of the living world-spirit’s arcane idiom that makes the disciple’s head turn like a millstone. Enough of the delusional singularity and grandeur of Lukács! As world-spirit, it is Lukács who determines the Wherefore and Whither of mankind; it is Lukács who reaches for the future with a creative hand, and everything that is or has been becomes for him a means, an instrument, a hammer. His knowing is creating, his creating is law making, his will to truth is the truth. You cannot be more arrogant than that.

By his very victory based on blood and judgement, by liquidating the Old Bolsheviks, Stalin incarnated world-historical reason which, as Heller tells us, Lukács adopted as his own principle. He was never tempted to renounce the idea of the essential superiority of Stalinist socialism, let alone challenge the ideological foundation of Bolshevism. The value of his own life – the betrayal of philosophy and reason by the one whose profession is to use and defend it, the moral incapacity not to face, not to react to ugly reality – had no part in Lukács’s idea of communism.

What sets Lukács apart and makes him unique is his conviction, his willingness to be sacrificed to communism? Conviction sanctifies: consequently it lies. Lukács accords the highest honours to conviction, the ground and force of his being; it takes his whole intellect into its service. He lived in a world where the pillars of truth were at the same time the pillars of a ruthless political order. His Marxism emerged in a politically enslaved world whose foundations he helped to lay.

As a representative thinker, a literary figure, a world renowned Marxist, few men have bequeathed to the future more revealing hints of the stormy twentieth century, its fierce paradoxes, its warring ideologies, and its wars and revolutions, than Lukács. One may include among the lessons of his legendary life – even though that life stretched to amazing length – how behind the tally of Marxist philosopher stands the captive mind, and gives a sort of casting vote. The last stage of the captive mind is that, accused of espionage under Article 58 (6), Lukács knew he heard his death-sentence. That instant he dies. Unless we grasp that it requires all the strength of spirit to die, that the tragic hero always dies before his death, we will not come particularly far in our analyses of Lukács’s humiliation in Lubyanka.

Extraordinary as it may seem, while his jailers fed the fire with his manuscript, and he could expect no mercy, Lukács was commanded to lecture to KGB officers on the Bolshevik Party, the history of Trotskyism and Leninism. The KGB is very inventive when comes to comedia dell’arte, when it comes to enact comic drama that strains our imagination by its gratuitous villainy.

This prison scene is comparable to what transpired in Florence in 1513. Four months after Machiavelli’s dismissal as Secretary of the Florentine Republic, a plot against the Medicis is discovered. The new regime has found a piece of paper listing twenty possible supporters of a plot to assassinate Cardinal Giuliano Medici. On the list is Niccolo’s name. He protests his innocence, as did Lukács, is thrown in prison, as was Lukács, and put to torture, which Lukács was not, to extract information.

In Lubyanka, Lukács lectures to his jailers; in prison, Machiavelli composed what may be called “The Prison Sonnets”. One sonnet, addressed to Cardinal Giuliano, who also had written verses, and who may help him, describes his state of mind, while the executioner’s axe waits outside the door.

„I have, Giuliano, a pair of shackles on my legs with six hoists of the rope on my shoulders:
my other miseries I do not want to talk about, as this is the way poets are to be treated!”

In Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler describes an attempt to break the morale of Rubashov – his “Rubashov” is modelled on Bukharin in his thinking – by dragging a savagely tortured prisoner past his cell to execution. That such scene was enacted before Lukács’s cell is possible. In Lubyanka, even prominent, loyal Party members were hardly better treated than slaves were by Plato.

To resume, as if by miracle, Niccolo walked out free of the Bargello, the Florentine palazzo where tortures and executions were performed. In his political writings Machiavelli claims that great men, leaders or a new prince, have God for their friend, they are “friends of God” and God is their friend. Why is it so important that these men have God for a friend? A great deal depends on who God is.

But who is the friend of Marxist thinkers? Who is Lukács’s God who can intercede and help? It is his wife Gertrud, and Fortune, the fickle goddess with gifts she offers to those she loves. Unknown to Lukács, his wife Gertrud, a truly committed communist, appealed to Stalin’s partner in crime, torture and mass slaughter.

Dear Comrade Molotov
8 July 1941

To: Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov
From: Lukacs Janosi Gertrud
Chkalov Street, 22/23 No.68

I implore you to exert influence for the immediate release and rehabilitation of my husband, Georg Lukács, who was arrested on 29 June. Lukács, a well known Hungarian writer, philosopher-publicist, a communist since 1919… is a Soviet citizen. His irreproachable, self-sacrificing Party activities are widely recognised by leaders of the Hungarian, Austrian and German CP (Mátyás Rákosi, Ernő Gerő, Wilhelm Pieck, Johann Koplenig, Ernst Fischer), also foreign writers, for example Johannes R. Becher and Sándor Gergely. Lukács’s profound devotion to the Soviet cause is well known to many members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences (academicians P. F. Yudin and Jenő Varga, also Elena Usievich, M. M. Rosenthal, V. C. Kamenev, F. M. Levin, M. A. Lifshitz, Tamara Motilova).” His arrest is a devastating, unjust blow of fate, and, given his age and state of health, life threatening. One must also consider that at this time, Lukács could be of great service to the Soviet Union and international communism. The name of Lukács is far-reaching outside the borders of the Soviet Union. He enjoys great prestige in the left circles of Europe, among anti-Fascist circles, in England and America. A number of facts attest this. Lukács received honourable mention in Thomas Mann’s Reflections of a Non-Political Man, Johannes R. Becker dedicated a sonnet to Lukács, and Arnold Zweig wrote a friendly letter to my husband. He also received letters from English and American intellectuals, letters in the hand of security organs. The anti-Fascist pen of Lukács, the personal prestige he commands, would mobilise and enlist the sympathy of European intellectuals for the Soviet Union. He would encourage the undecided to join the anti-Fascist Popular Front. The release and rehabilitation of Lukács is our common cause.”

She signed the letter: J. Gertrud, wife of Georgi Ossipovich Lukacs.7

It is interesting to note the names of those who can testify to Lukács’s credentials as a communist. Yudin was one of Stalin’s favourite hack philosophers. China’s revolutionary leader Mao Tse-tung would drive to the house of Soviet Ambassador P. F. Yudin for a late night visit. “Yudin was an intellectual. Mao would discuss philosophy with him until dawn. The doctrinal adjustments that some of Mao’s essays underwent before reappearing in the Selected Works probably owned something to these night-owl dialogues.”8

As for Elena Usievich, the daughter of a prominent Polish communist Feliks Kon (both had returned with Lenin from Zurich in 1917 in the armoured car), she was one of the editors of Literaturnii Kritik; its leading contributor was Lukács who lived in the Soviet Union from 1929 to 1931 and 1933 to 1945.

The revealing thing about the names listed in Gertrud’s letter is that these individuals stood in opposition to all intellectual well-being and integrity. From Rákosi to Yudin, they could and did use only the dogmatic mind as the Marxist mind, they took the side of everything pre-approved and idiotic, they proclaimed a curse against the “spirit”, against the superbia of the healthy human spirit.

At this point, let us quote Lukács:

It must not be forgotten that the practical influence of Stalinism made itself being felt via the central Party apparatus. I do not know why, but it was undoubtedly the case that Stalin thought of the philosophers Mitin and Yudin as his men. They therefore played an important role on the Central Committee, and Yudin could make use of Usievich to negotiate concessions for Literaturnii Kritik. That was why I was spared at the period of the great trials; in fact, none of the activists on the board of Literaturnii Kritik became victims of the purges. I was fortunate that Usievich was my Moscow friend. She in turn was friendly with Yudin… we were protected by Yudin.”9

These academicians and party functionaries were associated with Lukács in the period when the role of Stalin and of the Politburo and the NKVD were decisive in art, in literature, in everything. It is a staggering fact. From 1930 until the dictator’s death in 1953 there was virtually not a single ideological and therefore cultural question before the Politburo in which the decision was not made by Stalin or, for that matter, Molotov.

Speaking Bolshevik was an obligatory part of functioning, and, yes, surviving in Stalin’s society. Lukács by his own admission sprinkles his texts with Stalin quotes. Even his wife writes Bolshevik to Molotov, the most deplorable example of human depravity. Molotov had waged war to the death against Bukharin; he was convinced that Bukharin had joined in a conspiracy to assassinate Lenin; he with Stalin countersigned numerous, lengthy arrest and execution lists.

With his cold blooded cynicism, Molotov assesses nations, epochs, individuals according to whether they were conducive to the rule of Stalin. The arrogant self-inflation of Molotov takes one’s breath away for it admits of no comparison: „Stalin and I, we grew up in the spirit of Bolshevism, in the spirit of truth.”10

Gertrud wrote to no purpose, Molotov was no “friend” willing to intercede and help. The “friend” turned out to be Party leader Rákosi who called upon Dimitrov to intercede on behalf of Lukács. That Rákosi felt sympathy for Lukács is not surprising.

To celebrate the twenty-third anniversary of the Russian Revolution, there was a gala event at the Bolshoi Theatre. Rákosi sat in the first row.

Dimitrov’s diary entry (6 November 1940) reads:

During intermission,
STALIN: How is Rákosi?
DIMITROV: Feeling fine, but a reaction will obviously set in after lengthy imprisonment.
STALIN: He does not sympathise with the Trotskyites?
DIMITROV: No. He is holding out staunchly. Even in prison, in connection with the trial of Trotskyites, he took a firm position against the Trotskyites.
STALIN: All of them wavered at one time or another. They did not understand our business.
DIMITROV: The release of Rákosi is a great October gift for the Comintern!”

Stalin was wrong. Bukharin, Lukács and others did understand the “business” of Stalin. In his memoirs, written in Moscow, Rákosi writes:

Dimitrov was not exactly pleased with my request to intercede on behalf of Lukács. Though he did not refuse, he felt uncomfortable. When I put pressure on him, he promised to raise the issue with Stalin. In the meanwhile, I made the mistake of making a direct appeal to Beria. I called him on the phone. When he heard what I wanted to discuss, he cut me short, angry: 'I see, your specialty now is to secure the release of our enemies.'”11

The menacing words of Beria had the finality of a naked blade. But Dimitrov, who was on friendly terms with Lukács and worked together with him in Vienna in the Comintern, did raise the question of Lukács with Stalin. The Great Leader listened, sullen and silent, to Dimitrov’s earnest appeal on behalf of Lukács.

And so it happened. Between two pulls at his Dunhill pipe, Stalin scribbled on a piece of paper and signed an order for Lukács’s release. Socialism had been waiting too long for a glimpse of God on earth – Stalin. His acts of violence, terror and mercy were an expression of a dislocated world. Life and death was Stalin’s prerogative. It was performed in a universe hushed in moral stillness. Stalin’s laconic directive for releasing Lukács was co-signed by Beria in pencil, a symbol of his displeasure with the decision. Stalin and Beria despised each other but were made twins by past crimes, mutual envy and complimentary fox-like cunning.

Two months after his arrest, Lukács walked out of the prison gates of Lubyanka. The whole experience of Lubyanka and death-in-life, Lukács summed up in three sentences: “I went though one of the greatest purges known to history. I was arrested and held in detention for two months. That can only be described as good luck.”

Perhaps it was Fortune that aided Lukács’s release. Fortune is a Woman. He interchanges fortune with Gertrud and couples fortune with occasion and times. Lukács’s quintessential equivalence: Fortune = woman = Gertrud is in harmony with his love of his wife.

As Gertrud is nearing death (1963), Lukács pays her a moving tribute by copying lines from Shakespeare’s Sonnet XVIII:

…thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


Notes:


1 The Diary of Georgi Dimitrov, 1933-1949, Yale University Press, 2003.
2 Lukács, György, Utam Marxhoz [My Road to Marx], Budapest, Magvető, 1971, vol. II, pp. 302–03.
3 Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary 1901–1941, Oxford University Press, 1963, p. 187.
4 George Steiner, Lessons of the Masters, Harvard University Press, 2003, p. 2.
5 Heller, Ágnes – Kőbányai, János, Bicikliző majom, Budapest, Múlt és Jövő könyvek, 1998, p. 72.
6 Bicikliző Majom, pp. 89–90, 131.
7 Vallatás a Lubjankában. Lukács György vizsgálati ügyiratai – Életrajzi dokumentumok [Interrogation in Lubyanka Prison. György Lukács’s Records of Inquiry – Biographical Documents], Argumentum Kiadó – Lukács Archívum, 2002, pp. 65–68.
8 Ross Terrill, Mao: a Biography, New York, Harper Row, 1980, p. 222
9 Georg Lukacs, Record of A Life, Verso Editions, 1983, p. 97.
10 Molotov Remembers Inside Kremlin Politics, Ivan R. Dee Publisher, 1993, p. 64.
11 Rákosi, Mátyás, Visszaemlékezések, 1940–1956 [Remembrance], Budapest, Napvilág, 1997, Vol. I, pp. 25.
1 The Diary of Georgi Dimitrov, 1933-1949, Yale University Press, 2003.
2 Lukács, György, Utam Marxhoz [My Road to Marx], Budapest, Magvető, 1971, vol. II, pp. 302–03.
3 Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary 1901–1941, Oxford University Press, 1963, p. 187.
4 George Steiner, Lessons of the Masters, Harvard University Press, 2003, p. 2.
5 Heller, Ágnes – Kőbányai, János, Bicikliző majom, Budapest, Múlt és Jövő könyvek, 1998, p. 72.
6 Bicikliző Majom, pp. 89–90, 131.
7 Vallatás a Lubjankában. Lukács György vizsgálati ügyiratai – Életrajzi dokumentumok [Interrogation in Lubyanka Prison. György Lukács’s Records of Inquiry – Biographical Documents], Argumentum Kiadó – Lukács Archívum, 2002, pp. 65–68.
8 Ross Terrill, Mao: a Biography, New York, Harper Row, 1980, p. 222.
9 Georg Lukacs, Record of A Life, Verso Editions, 1983, p. 97.
10 Molotov Remembers Inside Kremlin Politics, Ivan R. Dee Publisher, 1993, p. 64.
11 Rákosi, Mátyás, Visszaemlékezések, 1940–1956 [Remembrance], Budapest, Napvilág, 1997, Vol. I, pp. 25.
 

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