Right-wing governments can destroy statues, but to destroy the memory and the intellectual legacy of Lukács is impossible - Anita Zsurzsan reports from The Legacy of Georg Lukács: An International Conference
‘We must not forget that history takes some big jumps. I saw the collapse of the Hapsburg and Romanoff empires; they looked stable and seemed everlasting in their time. Much depends on every communist being conscious of his/her task.’
In January 2017, Budapest City Council decided to remove the statue of Marxist philosopher Georg Lukács from an urban park in the 13th district of the Hungarian capital. Removing the statue of one of the most influential scholars of the 20th century might seem rather extreme in Europe, and in fact it was proposed by the neo-Nazi Jobbik party. The reasons for the removal were disguised behind an anti-Communist agenda, which is very common in contemporary Hungarian politics, but it has very little to do with anti-Communism, despite the fact that Lukács was a member of the Communist Party, and more to do with his Jewish roots.
The right-wing Fidesz party that currently rules in Hungary is not openly anti-Semitic, but over the years it has clearly demonstrated its anti-Jewish tendencies. Populist leader Viktor Orbán made anti-Communism a crucial part of his rhetoric based on xenophobia and anti-Semitism, but it’s important to note that this isn’t the type of anti-Communism fuelled by neoliberal values, it’s of pro-fascist variety that considers socialists sub-human and a dangerous threat to all national values. The Hungarian type of anti-Communism is based on Nazi philosopher Rosenberg’s definition of Untermensch, which tends to define socialism and communism as the ideology of the “inferior people”, the revolution of the sub-humans.
From this perspective, the sheer existence of Georg Lukács, a Marxist Jewish philosopher, simply cannot be tolerated by a government stuck in a bizarre nationalist autocracy. The witch-hunt of leftist intellectuals is not something new in Hungary either, and today this tendency has reached the level of barbarism. Removing the statue of Lukács and destroying his memory and intellectual legacy cannot be ignored, nor tolerated.
Georg Lukács clearly belongs to the towering intellectuals of the twentieth century. His influential works are considered all over the globe in philosophy, aesthetics, political and social science and literature. Protecting Lukács’ intellectual legacy and memory – which is constantly under attack in Hungary – is crucial. This is why an international conference recently held in Budapest should be seen as part of the resistance to these attacks. The Legacy of Georg Lukács: An International Conference, was organised by Hungarian university ELTE, the Central European University, the Georg Lukács International Archives and the Logos journal, led by philosophers János Kelemen and Michael J. Thompson.
The event took place in Lukács’ hometown of Budapest, and many academics from around the world travelled there to share their thoughts, ideas and research in nearly every aspect of Lukács’ life work. From Brazil to China, from the UK to Romania, researchers discussed relevant issues of Marxism and contemporary culture and politics. It would be hard to sum up all the interesting presentation we heard over the three-day conference, but most topics focused on Lukács’ History and Class Consciousness and Destruction of Reason, as well as anti-fascism, the theory of reification, the actuality of revolution and Lenin, ontology and materialism, social and liberal democracy, the actuality of Lukács and neo-Marxism, and political theory.
The first keynote lecture was presented by Professor Andrew Feenberg on the theory of reification and contemporary social movements, where he traced some of the social issues of late capitalism and the ability of the left to challenge them by building resistance movements all over the world. The second keynote was given by Professor Stephen Bronner, which considered some of Lukács ideas in contemporary politics, especially regarding anti-fascist movements and the possibilities of collaboration between liberal and social democracies in order to combat right-wing populism.
On the last day of the conference Lukács’ former student and friend, Hungarian philosopher Ágnes Heller talked about Lukács’ Soul and Form and the early Lukács, which was quite sentimental because she evoked Lukács as a person and her memories with him. The room was full during these lectures, an indication that the legacy of Lukács is still very much alive, and that right-wing governments can destroy statues, but to destroy the memory and the intellectual legacy of Lukács is impossible. Marxists internationally have to hold onto it.
After the conference there was a protest at Szent István Park, where the Lukács statue formerly stood. Many Hungarian intellectuals and friends of Lukács spoke up against the government and praised the importance of this unique cultural legacy that needs to be protected. One of the protesters, András Kardos, a researcher at the Lukács Archives in Budapest, talked about the many attacks against his memory over the past decades, and also about the possibility that the government might shut down the Archives, since it has been threatened many times. The Georg Lukács International Archives is one of the richest cultural collections in Budapest, and also a very important institute for Marxist academics. Feyzi Ismail gave a militant speech at the demonstration on the importance of Lukács’ legacy, and she also proposed temporarily bringing the Lukács statue to the University of London, but that the fight to restore the statue to his rightful place in Budapest wouldn’t be over.
The fight to protect Georg Lukács’ powerful legacy must go on. The memory of Lukács, as one of the greatest philosophers who witnessed one of the greatest revolutions in human history and clarified the revolutionary thought of Lenin specially, is a reminder of the potential for socialism, and that there is a more just, more fair world possible for all.