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György Lukács – the Hungarian Marxist by Lili Zemplényi

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Culture & Society

György Lukács – the Hungarian Marxist


In the last couple of years awareness about the works of György Lukács was growing in the Western world. His fame is due to his alleged involvement in introducing sex education in Budapest schools specifically with the aim of demoralising children and dismantling Christian values.[1]Some argue that the current push in the USA to extend discussions about sex in schools originates from György Lukács, and it has very malevolent intentions. Whistleblowing about the explicit sexual content taught in schools to small children, the Daily Wire reported[2] that graphic, cartoon-style sex ed videos were shown to first graders in New York private schools, discussing masturbation – without the consent of parents. Photographic evidence from fifth graders’ textbooks was circulating on Twitter showing how very explicit sex and gender identity related content is being discussed in some Californian schools.[3] Amidst the battle over sex education, it is worth having a deeper look into who György Lukács was; who is the person accused of undermining family values. 

György Lukács (Budapest, 13 April 1885 – Budapest, 5 June 1971) was a Hungarian Marxist philosopher, university professor and politician. He is considered to be one of the founders of Western Marxism. Western Marxism is an interpretation of Marx’s works, which put relatively little emphasis on his economic writings, and therefore, is more engaged with studying culture, cultural trends and historical development from a Marxist viewpoint. 

György Lukács joined the Communist Party in 1918 and was loyal to it till his death. Becoming the Marxist ideologue of the Communist Party was a radical change in his philosophical position as just a little before joining the party he rejected bolshevism in an essay titled ‘Bolshevism as an Ethical Dilemma’. In this essay, he famously argued that the end does not justifies the means; that is, it is morally unacceptable that bolshevism uses force to achieve a good end goal. The means (totalitarianism and political repression) by which Bolsheviks set up to achieve their ideal, corrupted the utopian, good end they pursued. The essay which was a reiteration of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment claimed bolshevism to be wrong as it wants to reach truth by the way of lie.[4]

He not only legitimized the use of force and terror in the interest of the revolution to achieve the communist utopia, but he deemed it necessarily

Just a couple of weeks after publishing this essay rejecting bolshevism, György Lukács joined the Communist Party. A little bit later, contemplating on the same questions he asked in the previous essay, Lukács published his ‘Tactics and Ethics’ essay. In this paper, he reached the exact opposite conclusion to the ones he reached in the ‘Bolshevism as an Ethical Dilemma’. He argued that it is morally acceptable to use force to achieve a good end. He not only legitimized the use of force and terror in the interest of the revolution to achieve the communist utopia, but he deemed it necessarily. He conceptualized the use of force as a ‘sacrifice’ one must make to drag the ‘less enlightened’ into paradise. With his essay he tried to intellectually justify all the horrors of the twentieth century. Moreover, he never even accepted that the long-wished-for ‘utopian end’ never realized itself – even in 1967 he claimed that ‘even the worst socialism is better than the best capitalism’.[5]

There seems to be only circumstantial evidence, however, that Lukács actually designed sexual education with the aim of bringing down family values. Peter Hitchens, who set up to investigate the claim, found no evidence directly from Lukács that this was his stated goal. [6]The idea that with his educational programme he aimed at demoralizing children could only be traced back to a Yugoslavian academic, Victor Zitta. He wrote that ‘education became something perverse’ under Lukács and that ‘special lectures were organised in school and literature printed and distributed to “instruct” children about free love, about the nature of sexual intercourse, about the archaic nature of the bourgeois family codes, about the outdatedness of monogamy, and the irrelevance of religion which deprives man of all pleasure. Children urged thus to reject and deride paternal authority and the authority of the church, and to ignore precepts of morality’. However, argues Hitchens, even if Lukács never stated that sexual education is for bringing down ‘old values’, Lukács did propose to annihilate all Western values – so attributing this aim to sexual education too may be in the spirit of Lukács’s ideas. 

Lukács undoubtedly contributed enormously to literary criticism in thetwentieth century, however, nothing he had done came without a great cost. He was guilty of repressing several outstanding Hungarian authors as his literary ideas did not accommodate opposing views. Sándor Márai, one of the greatest Hungarian writers of the century, was forced out of the country partially because of Lukács; some of Mihály Babits’s poems could not be published as they were unacceptable to his literary views.[7] His control over literary life provoked György Faludy to write him a desperate and angry letter accusing him of dishonesty, political repression and causing suffering to Hungarian literary circles. The translation of the most notable lines in the letter is: ‘you praise that disgusts you, // with your crocodile skin, rabbit heart, // with your prominent job, European // fame, and influence and especially // with your character, // you made inferior filth intellectually acceptable‘. 

‘dícséred azt, amitől undorodsz,

hogy krokodilbőröddel, nyúlszíveddel,

nagy állásoddal, európai

híreddel, befolyásoddal s főként

jellemeddel, szalonképessé tetted

az alávalóságot[8]

Lili Zemplényi, trainee at Danube Institute