I. We begin this paper with the premise that History and Class Consciousness is a moment of Lukács’s thought that cannot be reduced either to his early texts or to his later work. If The Phenomenology of Spirit was the French Revolution in philosophy, History and Class Consciousness was perhaps its October Revolution. The particularity of this text owes much to Hegel’s presence in it, by which we mean not only the pages where Lukács refers explicitly to Hegel, but the kind of Hegelianism that Lukács espouses, which we might summarize as the primacy of mediation over immediacy.2 This is to evoke a reading of Hegel that has emerged over the last decades, both from standard Hegel scholars like Dieter Henrich and from independent thinkers influenced by Hegel such as Jean-Luc Nancy and Slavoj Žižek,3 and that seems to be anticipated by Lukács – one that draws on the systematic character of negativity in Hegel’s philosophy. This character of negativity is explicit in the analysis of the activity of reflection in Hegel’s Logic of Essence,4 where it may be understood as a process of incessant deconstruction and reinsertion of points of immediacy. Negativity is not confined, however, to the Wesenlogik; the proof of this is that for all its contextualisation in the logical procedures of the concept, negativity acquires an autonomous character and reappears in the Absolute as, in Hegel’s words, “the turning point of the movement of the Concept. It is the simple point of negative relation to self, the innermost source of all activity, of all animate and spiritual self-movement” (Hegel 1969: 835).
Although his essay seems to have the structure of Hegel’s Logic – Being, Essence, Concept – the ontological mode of Lukács’s thinking brings him closer to the development of the Phenomenology than to that of the System. Pursuing this parallel we ascertain that, as with Hegel in his phenomenological development, Lukács was more interested in the unfolding of the contradictions and the dynamics of a representational structure of the (social-historical) consciousness than in the development of a conceptual system. In the Phenomenology the primacy of mediation is expressed by Hegel through the phrase “tarrying with negativity”5 (Hegel 1977a: 3 and 10), and is linked to the particularity of the concept of presence in this text, which displays, of course, a strong historical connotation (Hegel 1977a: 6-7) and has a bearing on the fact that consciousness becomes aware of the presence of a more and more comprehensible historical objectivity as its own objectivity6. The interesting point here is that negativity appears again in the absolute knowledge of objectivity under the form of contingency (Hegel 1977: 491-492). This, in our view, is why also Lukács makes no unequivocal claims concerning the status of the proletariat as the absolute subject-object of the historical process7, a reticence whose political consequences will be examined below.
We accordingly close this first section of our analysis with the perhaps provocative assertion that if there is an important difference between the dialectic of Lukacs and that of Adorno (the other great Hegelian of western Marxism), it is that Lukács’s dialectic will be proved to be much more negative. This implies that negativity in Lukács’ dialectic has no need of a general “empirical” reference in order for there to be emphasis on its materialistic character as against Hegelian identity (Adorno 1990: 119-121, 160-161). Whereas for Adorno, in other words, materialism finds its source in what resists identity, for Lukács materialist dialectics are to be situated in what concretely exceeds the immediacy of the identification, resolving it into its mediations II.
Our focus in this paper will not be on the first part of Lukács’ essay but, bearing in mind that our point of departure is a previous endeavour (Skomvoulis 2009) to study Lukács’ concept of reification as a…