‘Dialectics of Nature’ and the ‘free creation of history’
Lukacs was an important influence on what is called 'western Marxism'. This was seen as a 'humanist' substitute to the central Stalinist orthodoxy of the inter-War period and later. One of Lukacs most significant arguments was that there can be no dialectics of nature. We will examine the debate and go into the contradictory relationship between Lukacs' interpretation of Marxism and Stalinism. The ‘Dialectical Laws of History and Nature' is a confusing and often discouraging concept for new socialists to get their head around. In reading about this, people are often put off by the determinism of these ideas. Out of this misunderstanding, a whole school of pseudo-Marxist thought has developed, which plays a harmful role in planting ideas alien to the labour movement by seeking to dumb-down or restrict Marxism. The name of Georg Lukacs crop up as the hero of this petit-bourgeois reformism and cultural-criticism of ex-Marxists for having apparently restricted Marxism and taken it down a more limited, easier-to-swallow and somewhat less revolutionary juncture. Lukacs' claim that the dialectical laws of human society and thought cannot be applied to nature is strange - it has no precedent in dialectical thought. Dialectics was originally developed by Ancient Greeks who thought, in a brilliant stroke of immature intuition, that the forms of the natural world must be similar to those of their own thought; this tradition was continued by Hegel, who attempted to show that dialectics and science were compatible. This idea naturally sat well with Marx and Engels, who attempted to extract the ‘rational kernel' from Hegel's mysticism, to the extent that Engels wrote an entire book on this theme (Dialectics of Nature). The idea that dialectical laws have no reference to the objective world is therefore external to the history of dialectics itself. Because Lukacs and others wish to turn Marxism down a subjectivist, ‘cultural' route, they must deny the objective orientation of Marxism. They can only do this by pointing to Engels works on science, because Engels lacks the authority of Marx and Marx did not write on these topics. But parts of Dialectics of Nature and all of Anti-Duhring were edited by Marx. However his direct influence over the former work is small, as he died as it was being written. Thus the materialist thesis of the book was finally proved correct when even this greatest of minds found itself at the mercy of the exacting reality of the material world! This irony is lost on the Lukacsians and other ‘humanists' who try to show that because Engels, and not Marx, wrote about dialectics in nature, Marx must have been some old romantic interested only in society and culture! They forget that this is only because Marx was busy proving the importance of the material world by succumbing to it! The idea that dialectics is a purely subjective logic has no basis in Marxism or the very real, objective experiences of the working class. It is a sudden break, not properly explained by Lukács. Rather he simply states it, not daring to bring out its essential idealist logic because it is one alien to Marxism. But despite its limitations (i.e. complete lack of any explanation or elucidation from Lukacs) the idea caught on because it resonates with the idealist prejudices of the petit-bourgeois professors. Commodity Fetishism and Reification:
Lukacs' theory of ‘reification' inspired by Marx's idea of ‘Commodity Fetishism', forms the theoretical basis for his criticism of Engel. Marx considered economics to be reducible to social relations. But in capitalist society social relations take the form of class relations based around producing commodities, that is products of human labour intended for exchange rather than consumption. Marx claims that out of this a false or distorted world outlook is created. "This Fetishism of commodities has its origin in the peculiar social...
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