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Heritage of radical philosophy under threat

The Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ announcement that it intends to close down the Georg Lukacs Archive in Budapest has drawn universal condemnation, writes Edmund Griffiths

WORLDWIDE anger has been sparked by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ announcement that it intends to close down the Georg Lukacs Archive in Budapest.

Lukacs (1885-1971) was one of the 20th century’s most eminent Marxist philosophers.

He first gained recognition as a writer in the tradition of classical German philosophy — the very tradition in which Marx and Engels reached intellectual maturity.

Probably his best-known early work is The Theory of the Novel, written “in a mood of permanent despair over the state of the world” during WWI.

It was Marxism and the Russian revolution that showed Lukacs a way out of his despair. In 1919, when Hungary was briefly ruled by a revolutionary Soviet Republic or Republic of Councils, the philosopher served as a people’s commissar with responsibility for culture.

He was to remain actively involved in socialist and communist politics throughout his life.

His most famous book, History and Class Consciousness, appeared in 1923. With unparalleled precision and clarity, Lukacs distinguishes between class consciousness itself — the way society must appear when viewed from a particular position within it — and the beliefs held by members of any given class at any given time.

For students of consciousness, reification and other central questions of Marxist philosophy, Lukacs’s work remains fundamental.

He also wrote extensively on literature. The Historical Novel, which came out in 1937, was an epoch-making study concentrating in particular on the works of Balzac and Scott.

Lukacs’s former pupils include Agnes Heller, Imre Lakatos, and other well-known Hungarian philosophers.

The Lukacs Archive is home to thousands of books, letters, manuscripts and other documents, including unpublished writings in Hungarian and German and correspondence between Lukacs and many leading 20th-century thinkers and writers: Ernst Bloch, Thomas Mann, Jean-Paul Sartre, Erich Fromm and others.

Situated as it is in the philosopher’s former home, in an apartment in Number 2, Belgrad Rakpart, it also serves as a memorial to him.

The Academy of Sciences now proposes to dissolve this important resource.

Dr Miklos Mesterhazi, of the Lukacs Archive staff, told the Morning Star: “If you decode the academy’s statement, it means that the Georg Lukacs Archive as it has existed for decades will be closed down. Lukacs’s apartment, where the archive has been housed, will be sold off, and my colleagues will be driven out — either reassigned or pensioned off.”

The decision to close the archive should be seen in the context of the increasingly reactionary cultural policy pursued by the country’s right-wing government.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who came to power in 2010, declared in 2014 that his government’s aim was “building an illiberal new state on national foundations.”

We have already seen the illiberal new state in action, most notoriously in the steel and barbed wire fences it has erected along its southern border to keep out refugees fleeing Syria and other warzones.

We have seen its objectives entrenched in a new constitution overflowing with references to Christianity, budget discipline, the nation, one man with one woman, the Holy Crown, the moment of conception, the “criminal communist dictatorship,” and other conservative talking points.

And we now see it trying to blot out the memory of Hungary’s most celebrated philosopher.

Zsuzsa Hermann, whose online petition against the decision to close the Lukacs Archive has already received more than 7,000 signatures, told the Morning Star that “this decision was crudely and exclusively politically motivated.”

And Sandor Radnoti, Professor of Aesthetics at Budapest’s Eotvos Lorand University, added: “It shows a complete lack of understanding of Lukacs’s significance.”

The decision has drawn wide condemnation in left and intellectual circles. Dr Ruediger Dannemann, the chair of the International Lukacs Society, told the Morning Star: “The struggle to save the Lukacs Archive is about preserving the priceless legacy of a great 20th-century intellectual and Marxist philosopher.

“But it is also about maintaining the heritage of radical philosophy (in Agnes Heller’s sense) and Marxist philosophy as part of our great cultural narrative.

“I hope the Hungarian Academy of Sciences will change course.”

But that might mean compelling Orban’s “illiberal new state” to reconsider the impoverished, mutilated version of Hungarian history and culture it has chosen to present as its “national foundations.”


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