Georg Lukács and his theory of "Reification"
A response to Lukács’s “Reification” essay
Platypus Review 73 | February 2015
Originally published in the Russian language journal,
Under the Banner of Marxism 10-11 (1924), 23-31.
THE PHILOSOPHICAL INCLINATIONS present among people claiming to be Marxists manifest a haphazardness of speculative philosophizing that must meet their nemesis in the philosophy of dialectical materialism.
The history of human thought, from the dialectical standpoint, is least of all a ground for constructing hypotheses, concocting dubious concepts that bear on their face the imprint of traditional philosophical strivings. True and deep thought, thought that opens a new epoch in history, often becomes a pole of attraction for philosophizing persons whose conceptual fancy seizes upon such thought only to cover it over with their own questionable designs. Such a questionable design is the theory of reification of Georg Lukács. (( Weinstein here is referring to a translation of the first part of Lukács’s three-part essay “Die Verdinglichung und das Bewußtsein des Proletariats” [“Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat”] that appeared in Russian in Vestnik Socialističeskoj Akademii 4 (1923), 186-222. A Russian translation of the rest of "Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat" appeared in the following issues, numbers 5 and 6, of Vestnik Socialističeskoj Akademii. It is unclear whether at the time of writing Weinstein was unfamiliar with the second and third parts of the essay or, if he was, whether their later appearance in Russian altered his views on Lukács’s enterprise. Lukács’s essay, of course, had first appeared as the central contribution to his 1923 volume, Geschichte und Klassenbewußtsein [History and Class Consciousness], which he would eventually repudiate. For Lukács’s own 1925 defense of the book, see his A Defence of History and Class Consciousness: Tailism and the Dialectic, trans. by Esther Leslie (London: Verso, 2000). It is unclear whether Lukács was aware of Weinstein’s Russian review. His 1925 Defence is directed against responses to his book by Abram Deborin and Laszlo Rudas, both of which appeared in 1924 in the journal Arbeiterliteratur published in Vienna. ))
Marx, as is known, disclosed the fetish character of the commodity. He showed that value is not a fetish invisibly residing in the commodity, but a production relation in a society based on individual exchange between commodity producers. The structure of commodity society in general, and capitalist society in particular, is such that a thing becomes a point of intersection in a nexus of interlinking labors. The commodity establishes links in such a society, where there is no planned regulatory control over production and where a thing, disconnected from the producer that made it, descends on to the market as a commodity unit, obedient to the specific laws of circulation: "The labor of the private individual manifests itself as an element of the total labor of society only through the relations which the act of exchange establishes between the products, and, through their mediation, between the producers." (( Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1, trans. by Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin Books, 1976), 165. )) A thing is disconnected from the producers because they themselves are disconnected from each other. The overcoming of this separation is carried out in commodity circulation, through which things establish social ties. To understand the consciousness of such a society and its constitutive classes (a means in the struggle) it is necessary to go beyond the limits of thinghood and to address the living concrete actors in struggle. Things do not struggle amongst themselves. If the social consciousness is a critical factor in this mutual historical rivalry, then, of course, it is necessary to understand it in terms of social class interest, which only finds expression in living agents of the historical process. The genius of Marx's disclosure consisted in revealing behind relations of things the relations of people and, conversely, in establishing the necessity of the reification of production relations in a commodity society. Lukács, proceeding from the fact of commodity fetishism—which Marx so brilliantly dissected having seen behind this occult idol human relations—attempts to construct an entire "monistic" theory of reification in whose image and likeness all phenomena of this society are formulated, including consciousness. However, Lukács’s construction stands in sharp contradiction to the sense of dialectical materialism.
First of all, when Marx speaks about capital "as automatic generation" (( The reference here is to the general formula for capital:
The independent form, i.e., the monetary-form, which the value of commodities assumes in simple circulation, does nothing but mediate the exchange of commodities, and it vanishes in the final result of the movement. On the other hand, in the circulation M-C-M, both the money and the commodity function only as different modes of existence of value itself, the money as its general mode of existence, the commodity as its particular, or, so to say, disguised mode. It is constantly changing from one form into the other, without becoming lost in this movement; it thus becomes transformed into an automatic subject…
As the dominant subject of this process, in which it alternately assumes and loses the form of money and the form of commodities, but preserves and expands itself through all these changes, value requires above all an independent form by means of which its identity with itself may be asserted [Marx, Capital, 255 emphasis added].
The older English translation puts it this way, “[capital] assumes an automatically active character.” )) in which all traces of its origin disappear, he in this case does not at all describe, as Lukács thinks, "the inclination of conciousness toward reification." (( It seems that Weinstein is referring to here to Lukács’s statement that, “Just as the capitalist system continuously produces and reproduces itself economically on higher and higher levels, the structure of reification progressively sinks more deeply, more fatefully and more definitively into the consciousness of man” [History and Class Consciousness, trans. by Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1972), 93]. )) Rather, Marx is speaking about the refraction of determinate forms of social relations, operating as relations of things in the consciousness of bourgeois theory and representation. Political economy is the science of relations between people represented as relations between things. The capitalist economy is a commodity economy, the single cell of which—the private business enterprise—is managed by formally independent commodity producers, between whom an indirect link is established in the process of exchange. Speaking about commodity fetishism and all its modifications in capitalist society, Marx least of all psychologizes. He is describing an inclination of consciousness, but he specifies it in relation to the productive relations of people characteristic of capitalist society. Rubin is completely right to say that the theory of commodity fetishism could be better called "a general theory of the production relations of capitalist society." (( Appearing in the same year as Lukács’s text, I. I. Rubin had maintained that while, as Bogdanov and Kautsky had maintained,
[Marx’s] theory of fetishism dispels from men’s minds the illusion, the grandiose delusion of brought about by the appearance of phenomena in the commodity economy… [nevertheless] “this interpretation, though generally accepted in Marxist literature, does not nearly exhaust the rich content of the theory of fetishism developed by Marx. Marx did not only show that human relations were veiled by relations between things, but rather that in the commodity economy social production relations inevitably took the form of things and could not be expressed except through things…. [On this reading] the theory of commodity fetishism is transformed into a general theory of production relations of the commodity economy [I. I. Rubin, Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value, Third Edition, translated by Miloš Samardžija and Fredy Perlman (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1973), 2].
The way that Weinstein contrasts Rubin with Lukács so strongly here is unusual. Typically, the two are viewed as similar in their readings of Marx. ))
In Lukács we read that, "just as the economic theory of capitalism remains stuck fast in its self-created immediacy, the same thing happens to bourgeois attempts to comprehend the ideological phenomenon of reification." (( Lukács, History, 94. )) But what is this immediacy created by capitalist economic theory that precludes an understanding of the ideological phenomenon of reification? It must be said that thus to perceive in commodity fetishism an immediacy created by capitalist economic theory is utterly incompatible with a dialectical understanding of social phenomena. Commodity fetishism, of course, is not a simplification created by capitalist economic theory, but a form inherent to a society in which people are connected by means of things. Capitalist economic theory in its various stages reflects the various stages [in the historical development] of capitalist society. Consequently, to expound in these cases [of over a century and half of bourgeois political economy] that some kind of haphazardly created “immediacy” prevents an understanding of the ideological phenomenon of reification is completely untenable.
"Even those thinkers,” Lukács continues, “who have no desire to deny or obscure its existence and who are more or less clear in their own minds about its humanly destructive consequences remain on the surface and make no attempt to advance beyond its objectively most derivative forms, the forms furthest from the real life-process of capitalism, i.e., the most external and vacuous forms, to the basic phenomenon of reification itself." But how are we to take this claim that theorists of capitalist economy are, "clear in their own minds about [reification’s] humanly destructive consequences?" (( Ibid. ))
Destructive for whom? Which consequences? According to Lukács, the theorists of capitalist economy go no further than description. Their attempts to question deeply are constrained by the form of reification’s manifestation. In reality it is not quite so. Bourgeois political economists do not only describe, but also explain. And the fact of the matter is that if at bottom these explanations fail to transcend certain determined limits, this limitation ought to be sought not on the ground of reification, but on that of antagonistic society. This is what prompts these theorists to convert even "humanly destructive consequences" into eternal benefits and a redeeming core of social well-being.
Take, for example, classical economy’s highest representative, David Ricardo. In what lies his essential difference from Marx? Why didn't Ricardo apprehend the essence of the "phenomenon of reification"? For Ricardo, as is known, changes in the magnitude of value depend on changes of the productivity of labor. Labor, for Ricardo too, is the substance of the value of a commodity. Yet the value of a commodity, as productive labor, is for Ricardo not a social category, but an eternal form of social production per se. "Political Economy has indeed,” Marx says, “analyzed, however incompletely, value and its magnitude, however incompletely, and has uncovered the content concealed within these forms. But it has never once asked the question why this content has assumed that particular form, that is to say, why labor is expressed in value, and why the measurement of labor by its duration is expressed in the magnitude of the value of the product." (( Marx, Capital, 173-4. )) Classical economy studied the process of production in its material-technical basis, but it failed utterly to regard it from the standpoint of social antagonism.
The economic categories of Marx—the categories of value, money, capital as dissected by the scalpel of the dialectical method—already speak not only of relations of production in general (this happens also in the classics), but also of the determinate form of relation that obtains between capitalists and workers. The issue, consequently, is not only the reified character of production relations, but the determinate social-antagonistic form they acquire only at a given stage of development of the productive forces. Not the reified character of productive relations in capitalist society, but the interest of the ruling class, constitutes the first premise of the economic thought of its theorists. This is what determines the viewpoint of Ricardo, according to whom capital is "accumulated labor." That is, he can only see in capital a "means of production" in which no social-class opposition exists. Precisely class interest prevents bourgeois theory to overcome its fetishist viewpoint, to apprehend the phenomenon of reification and thus to stand on the ground of dialectical materialism, the outlook of the working class. But even potential apprehension by bourgeois theory in the point of reification still does not guarantee it against ideological and fetishist illusions, if the whole class interest suppresses and fetters its theoretical purview. If capital is not an automatic fetish, not money hatching money, still it is value creating surplus value, i.e., a social relation of exploitation and oppression resulting from the ruling class’ ownership of accumulated labor, i.e., the means of production. Perception of this social formation is already the overcoming of the class viewpoint of the bourgeoisie and any type of ideological and social illusions: This naturally cannot take place in bourgeois theory as such. The mystery of any social construction should be sought in the relation of the owners of the means of production to the direct producers. The theorists of the bourgeoisie, as well as all possible sorts of theoretical opportunism, direct their efforts to ideological distortion and the blunting of class conflict. This leads in turn to "ideologization" of the given social relations, obscuring their dialectical nature. Perception of this dialectical nature is impossible without treating the specific type of productive relations that obtains between people. This alone sheds light on all the phenomena of the given society, reification as well as idealization. Marx apprehended the ideological nature of reification, disclosing the social background of commodity fetishism, when he came to examine the process of history dialectically. Then, instead of mute thinghood, a drama of social struggle unfolded. True, production relations in commodity society in general, and capitalist society in particular, operate as relations of things. However, not these relations between things, but precisely the relations between people led by economic interests are what illuminate the fundamental problems of a given form of social life in its diverse social and ideological ramifications.
In the beginning was the deed. When Plekhanov described dialectical materialism as the philosophy of action, he actually only reprised Marx’s own view that he applied in the assessment of Feuerbach’s materialism in contradistinction to his emerging dialectical materialism.
The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism—that of Feuerbach included—is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as human sensuous activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism—which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such. Feuerbach wants sensuous objects, really distinct from the thought objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective activity. (( Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach,” in Marx-Engels Reader, Second Edition, ed. by Robert C. Tucker (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1978), 143. Emphasis in original. ))
The fact is that historical regularity is not brought about outside this subjective activity, but in the process of such activity, which seizes, permeates, and illuminates objectivity, which in consequence of this activity loses its mystical occult character and acquiring a human physiognomy. The problem of capitalist society for Marx is the problem of production relations between capitalists and workers having taken reified form. But the methodological originality of Marx consists in the sociological overcoming of this supposed objectivity, expressed in the disclosure of this material fetish.
We have already seen that a fundamental difference between Marx’s dialectical materialism and the materialism of Feuerbach is that Marx considers reality not only in the form of objects, but also in the form of concrete human action, i.e., subjectively. Lenin, the brilliant master in the field of revolutionary activity, showed that revolution cannot happen if to the objective prerequisites of revolution are not added subjective prerequisites, namely an aptitude of the revolutionary class for revolutionary mass action. Opportunist objectivism always prefers to confine itself to “objective conditions,” granting them the undivided initiative in the domain of revolutionary action, proceeding by way of such objectivism to simply, politically taking the path of least resistance.
As a theory of revolutionary action, dialectical materialism contradicts any theory of reification that seeks the mystery of all structures of human consciousness in "things," in “ghostly objectivity.” Such a view completely ignores the subjective dimension operative in actual class conflict. "In the succession of the economic categories as in any other historical social science,” Marx says, “it must not be forgotten that their subject—here, modern bourgeois society—is always what is given, in the head as well as in reality, and that these categories therefore express the forms of being, the characteristics of existence, and often only individual sides of this specific society, this subject." (( Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, trans. by Martin Nicolaus (London: Penguin Books, 1973), 106. Note that while the Grundrisse in its entirety was not published until 1939, this passage is taken from the “Introduction” which had been published in the SPD’s house theoretical journal, Die Neue Zeit, in 1903. Thus was the text available to Weinstein in 1924. )) The social, and not the reified existence of people determines their consciousness. The materialist theory of history in social relations seeks to explain phenomena, taking place in the given social whole.
Of course inasmuch as relations of people take the form of relations of things, the reified character of social relations inevitably imparts to society a certain cast, compared, e.g., with a society in which people connect directly in the process of production, rather than through the mediation of things. "The bourgeoisie,” Marx says,
has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation. The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers. (( The reference here of course is to Marx and Engels’s “Communist Manifesto,” in Marx-Engels Reader, 475-6. ))
Universal exchange has formed, according to Marx, a new order such that even those things, "which till then had been communicated, but never exchanged; given, but never sold; acquired, but never bought—virtue, love, conviction, knowledge, conscience, etc.—when everything, in short, passed into commerce." (( Karl Marx, Poverty of Philosophy (New York: International Publishers, 1992), 27. )) That is how Marx described with classical clarity the general pervasion of exchange value through all phenomena of the social and ideological order. But at the same time we must not lose sight of the fact that Marx calls this universal reification a naked, shameless, direct and brutal exploitation. Marx considers the phenomenon of reification not as autonomous and detached, as some sort of key to all the phenomena of given society, but as a direct expression of social antagonism itself operating through the fetish appearances of the commodity form of labor. In Lukács this social moment is completely obscured by the moment of thinghood. "The journalists' lack of convictions,” says Lukács, “the prostitution of their experiences and beliefs is comprehensible only as the culminating point of capitalist reification." About what sort of journalists does Lukács speak? Of course, not about the proletarian, but about the bourgeois journalists. But prostitution of their talents is characteristic for the "graduated flunkeys of the bourgeoisie." It is characteristic, in other words, as an instrument of class struggle. The prostitution by journalists of their experiences should be considered not at all as the culminating point of capitalist reification, but as one of the forms of struggle of the capitalist class, a struggle, of course, which is not a struggle for truth, but a struggle for power, disdaining neither hypocrisy nor prostitution.
"There is no such thing as abstract truth, truth is always concrete." (( V. I. Lenin, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, in The Lenin Anthology, ed. by Robert C. Tucker (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1975), 117. )) The genius of Marx, who always employed the dialectical method, consisted in disclosing the concrete moments that lie hidden beneath a reified shell. Capital for Marx is not a thing, not accumulated labor, a social form, which the means of production take on the basis of wage labor. In this way, undetermined thinghood is boiled down to social determinacy, which is that central problem the solution of which involves the inevitable disclosure of all the problems of the given society. Marx always demanded concreteness. This was clearly expressed in his basic theoretical demand that in the method of political economy, "the subject, society, must always be kept in mind as the presupposition." (( Marx, Grundrisse, 102 )) Thus, for instance, Marx reproaches Hegel for starting the Philosophy of Right with ownership, as the simplest legal relation of the subject. "No ownership exists, however, before the family or the relations of master and servant are evolved, and these are much more concrete relations." (( Ibid. )) Therefore it would be more correct to say that there exist families and tribes which have as of yet only possessions, but not property. "Although the simpler category may have existed historically before the more concrete,” Marx says, “it can achieve its full (intensive and extensive) development precisely in a combined form of society, while the more concrete category was more fully developed in a less developed form of society." (( Ibid., 103. )) Determination of the organization of production, the mystery of which is disclosed in the owners of the means of production’s relation to the direct producers, constitutes the essence of all social structures. When things flowing in their usual channel advance reification, as "model of all the objective forms of bourgeois society together with all the subjective forms corresponding to them," (( Lukács, History, 83. )) it means such an absorption of the subjective by the objective. This is radically contradicted by dialectical materialism, the philosophy of action.
Citing the words of Engels—that in a modern state, “law must not only correspond to the general economic situation and be its expression, but must be an expression which is consistent in itself and which does not, owing to inner contradictions, look glaringly inconsistent. And in order to achieve this, the faithful reflection of economic conditions is more and more infringed upon" (( Friedrich Engels to Conrad Schmidt, 10/27/1890, in The Selected Correspondence of Karl Marx and Friedrick Engels, 1846-1895, trans. by Dona Torr (New York, International Publishers, 1942), 481. ))—Lukács remarks, "It is hardly necessary to supplement this with examples of the inbreeding and the interdepartmental conflicts of the civil service (consider the independence of the military apparatus from the civil administration), or of the academic faculties, etc." (( Lukács, History, 103. )) This interpretation is not quite true. Engels actually wants to say that law, as an ideological instrument of the ruling class of capitalists, has still as its task to obscure and blunt the sharp edges of this domination, that it strives to hide its class nature and to appear as above class considerations. The law appears universal irrespective of all such interests. The distorted reflection of economic relations by bourgeois law is, "all the more [distorted] the more rarely it happens that a code of law is the sharp, unmitigated, unadulterated expression of the domination of one class." (( Engels to Schmidt, 10/27/1890, in Selected Correspondence, 481. )) It seems clear, then, that for Engels the issue is about class law, which strives to crown itself with the flower of eternity, masking the signs of its own class character. All the (if one can put it like this) crotchets and distortions of the law Engels links closely to its class character. But how does it stand in Lukács? Such a distancing of law from its economic basis characterizes for Lukács a struggle between civil services, between faculties.
If we carefully look at his "monistic" theory, one very interesting fact emerges, namely the analogy with certain features of the outlook of Bogdanov. Take the role played in Lukács by specialization: Specialization figures in Bogdanov as the Primal Fall, the fatal source of present and emerging dissonances the overcoming of which by universal organization is itself tantamount to the realization of a higher social harmony. Pointing to rationalization of individual functions in capitalist society, taking place along with the irrationality and problematic "regularity" of the whole, Lukács says:
This has the effect of making these partial functions autonomous and so they tend to develop through their own momentum and in accordance with their own special laws independently of the other partial functions of society (or that part of the society to which they belong).
As the division of labor becomes more pronounced and more rational, this tendency naturally increases in proportion. For the more highly developed it is, the more powerful become the claims to status and the professional interests of the ‘specialists’ who are the living embodiments of such tendencies. And this centrifugal movement is not confined to aspects of a particular sector. It is even more in evidence when we consider the great spheres of activity created by the division of labor. (( Lukács, History, 103. ))
The logic of specialization thus figures in Lukács as a fracturing force thanks to which society’s self-presentation obscures its very totality. Reality is partitioned into fragments and science is turned into a system for which, "the world lying beyond its confines, and in particular its own material base which it is its task to understand, its own concrete underlying reality lies, methodologically and in principle, beyond its grasp." (( Ibid., 104. )) This same logic of specialization leads to a "struggle of two coiled springs," i.e., an obscuring of the real social class struggle, capable alone of disclosing any type of irrationalities, whether manifested in the anarchy of social production or in some sort of ideological variation, as in the philosophical system of a Spengler. Precisely class relations—as the spring of social progress, as the dialectic of the social process—prevent bourgeois theorists to adopt the dialectical viewpoint. In this way Lukács’s dialectical methodology gives way to a methodology of reification. " Lukács writes:
It has often been pointed out in these pages and elsewhere, that the problem that forms the ultimate barrier to the economic thought of the bourgeoisie is the crisis. If now, in the full awareness of our own one-sidedness, we consider this question from a purely methodological point of view, we see that it is the very success with which the economy is totally rationalized and transformed into an abstract and mathematically orientated system of formal ‘laws’ that creates the methodological barrier to understanding the phenomenon of crisis. (( Ibid., 105. ))
It will not be an exaggeration, if I say, that Lukács himself resides on the plane of formalism, which occludes from him the real nature of things. The fact is that the methodological barrier to understanding the problem of crisis is created for bourgeois economists not at all by economic rationality, because economics as a science is an application of the rational method to empirical facts, but by hatred of the rational kernel of dialectics, the application of which, for instance, to the problem of crisis, touches upon the most dangerous and deadly sores of capitalist society.
Engels, considered crises from the dialectical viewpoint, indicating that they emerge from the very nature of capitalist production and competition: "In the present unregulated production and distribution of the means of subsistence, which is carried on not directly for the sake of supplying needs, but for profit, in the system under which every one works for himself to enrich himself, disturbances inevitably arise at every moment." (( Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 93-4. )) He went further, noting that since the beginning of the last century crises set in every 5-7 years. Every time the event was fraught with the greatest poverty for workers and general revolutionary excitation. Every crisis, consequently, is a great danger for the entire existing order. The dialectical interpretation of the problem of crisis is connected in Engels, on the one side, with the observed determined system of the distribution of products, the capitalist mode of production, and, on the other side, it closely connects its negative effect with that class that suffers from it directly, occasioning in it a revolutionary commotion that threatens the entire existing order. It is completely clear that bourgeois theorists’ interpretation of crises will methodologically avoid those moments that point to the revolutionary class overthrow of their social foundation, capitalist society. For them the disproportionality between production and consumption which speaks to the social class opposition of labor and capital gives way to theoretical efforts to find the source of crises in a disproportionality between elements solely of production itself. It is completely clear that in this case the determinant for bourgeois theory is not rationality, but, on the contrary, the social relations that determine its methodology. Marxism leads to different conclusions.
Lukács evidently feels that something is wrong in his own type of interpretation, attributing to rationalization the decisive force for social phenomena, which allows only for this saving clause—"the incomprehensibility and irrationality of crises is indeed a consequence of the class situation and interests of the bourgeoisie but it follows equally from their approach to economics.” (( Lukács, History, 105. )) But such a separation by Lukács between apparently internal content and form does not save the situation but makes it, on the contrary, still more shaky and doubtful. In order to substantiate the methodological inevitability of such incomprehensibility of the crisis problem for bourgeois theorists, Lukács recalls the theory of Tugan-Baranovsky, in which the latter, giving an analysis of historical crises over nearly a century-long period, tries to exclude the fact of consumption and to found an economics purely focused on production. But it is completely clear that regarding crises purely in terms of production and disregarding consumption, the bourgeois theorist obscures the most elemental social characteristic of crises—that they are rebellions of the productive forces against the existing mode of production—adducing instead that absurd contradiction, "the meaning of which is that producers have nothing to consume, because customers are wanting." (( Friedrich Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, trans. by Edward Aveling (New York: International Publishers, 1975), 71. )) I repeat, it is not economic rationality that causes the irrationality and incomprehensibility of crises for bourgeois theory, but a certain class trend predetermines for it those limits beyond which it is not permitted to venture.
This, however, raises the following question: Suppose the fatal and insurmountable obstacle to the comprehension of the fundamental nature of social phenomena lies for bourgeois theory in the formal-theoretical method. In that case, after all, there exists a so-called intuitive school (Bergson, James, etc.), which gnostically rebels against the oppressive claims of rationalism, advancing intuition as the most competent organ of knowledge capable by means of feeling to apprehend the very viscera of life. Does then not the philosophy of Bergson appear in the role of savior, rescuing cognition from its paralyzing formalism? Why may not illumination be derived from there? Certainly, Lukács’s construction leads logically to similar conclusions as those drawn by Bergson and James. Is not Bergson’s irrational intuitionism itself invoked to apprehend the very phenomenon of reification? Here’s Lukács:
[Philosophy] may radically question the value of formal knowledge for a “living life” (see irrationalist philosophies from Hamann to Bergson). But these episodic trends lie to one side of the main philosophical tradition. The latter acknowledges as given and necessary the results and achievements of the special sciences and assigns to philosophy the task of exhibiting and justifying the grounds for regarding as valid the concepts so constructed. (( Lukács, History, 110. ))
Lukács thus distinguishes between the main and episodic trends in philosophy, so that the vitalist trend appears to him episodic in comparison to the main rationalist trend, which, for its part, is hopelessly removed from all possibility of grasping the phenomenon of reification. However, it is baffling how one can regard as episodic the intuitionist direction in philosophy that gnostically justifies all sorts of religious folly that runs counter to the basic evidence of scientific thinking. Such thinking is eminently suitable for bourgeois theory and the capitalist class. Is it, for instance, merely an episodically irrationalist aspiration in James that drives him to his apotheosis of religious feeling, his glorification of religious contrasts as refining and deepening the world, such that, "[the world] is all the richer for having a devil in it, so long as there is also archangel Michael to keep his foot upon his neck." (( William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, a Study in Human Nature: Being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion Delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-2 (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1902), 50. )) Such ideological phrase-making is in fact far from episodic in the decadent philosophy of the bourgeoisie, whose theorists strive to hoist aloft the banner of scientific clericalism, hounding ideological class struggle out of hearing on grounds of bad taste. In this paltry manner they attempt to defend themselves against any revolutionary shock to good conscience. "In fact, it cannot be an accident,” Lenin exclaims, “that the small school of empirio-criticists is acclaimed by the English spiritualists, like Ward, by the French neo-criticists, who praise Mach for his attack on materialism, and by the German immanentists." (( V. I. Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1972), 414. ))
When it thus appears that arch-bourgeois philosophers adopt an irrationalist posture in their strivings to overcome rationalist formalism, then Lukács’s true position is at odds with his contention that, "a radical change in outlook is not feasible on the soil of bourgeois society." If one takes such a viewpoint, then the vitalist philosophy of Bergson, however "episodic," nevertheless appears to be such a radical change of the formalist viewpoint. After all, it makes a claim to apprehend the essence of things. Indeed, it advances this essence as a commendable object of gnostic effort, denigrating by contrast the formal-rationalist achievements of the intellect that touch only relations . . . a rather sad result. |P