The first translation from German of any of Lukács's History and Class Consciousness appeared in the heterodox Trotskyist journal The New International, in the summer 1957 issue. Michael Harrington translated What is Orthodox Marxism?, the first essay in the book, with the introduction reprinted here.
George Lukács, the author of What is Orthodox Marxism, is one of the strangest figures of twentieth century socialism. For he is simultaneously one of the few really creative Marxist minds of his time and a man who has betrayed the ideals of the revolution to the Stalinist regime.
The many paradoxes of his life were brought to a fitting climax in October 1956, when, after thirty one years of faithful service to totalitarianism, he emerged as one of the central intellectual leaders of the Hungarian Revolution.
Lukács was born in Hungary in 1885 of a well-to-do family. As a young man, he was drawn to Kantian philosophy, and a little later to the sociology of Max Weber. Lukács' reputation developed early. A book of his published when he was in his mid-twenties caught the eye of Thomas Mann and the two developed a personal relationship. Later, according to Jean Duvignaud, this friendship was the source of Mann's portrait of Naphta, the strange theological communist, in the Magic Mountain.
During the first War, Lukács' personal world fell to pieces under the strain of the social carnage. His work of this period, such as the Theory of the Novel, is marked by a sort of expressionist despair, and is filled with descriptions of the "unbridgeable abyss" between the "I" and the world. And yet, in 1919, Lukács participated in the Soviet Hungarian Government of Bela Kun. In this period, he was decisively drawn to Marxism, and though he submitted his convictions to the terrible distortions of Stalinist ideology, this commitment persisted up to the present.
What is Orthodox Marxism is an essay taken from the collection, Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein (History and Class Consciousness). These essays, written during the period of the revolutionary wave after World War I, were condemned at the Fifth Congress of the Communist International by Zinoviev as "idealistic."
At that time, Lukács made a complete and total submission to the Party. He lived in Moscow for years, and when called upon made sharp "self-criticisms" of himself in the most classic Stalinist fashion (the most recent was only some seven or eight years ago; the confession of not having been sufficiently aware of contemporary Russian literature).
And yet, even during the period of Lukács' most abject submission to the Party line, he continued to write brilliant Marxist literary criticism. This was smuggled in past the required statements that Stalin was the most brilliant aesthetician of the epoch, the continuator of the work of Marx, Engels and Lenin.
He was, of course, most affected by his Stalinist commitment in his discussion of current writers - he denounced Franz Mehring, for example, as a "literary Trotskyist," and found the historical novels of the German popular front to be a major turning point in the history of that country's literature.
Then a change took place. In the period before the Hungarian Revolution, Lukács was one of the central leaders of the intellectual ferment. Indeed, his influence was not confined to Hungary. Wolfgang Hairich, the young German academician who was recently sentenced to jail for his oppositional activities was a "Lukácsian," and his authority is great in Communist circles in various Communist Parties.
Lukács went into exile along with Imre Nagy. Since then, there have been reports that he was going to support the Kadar regime (mainly in France-Observateur), or that he was going to be tried, but there has been no substantiation.
This is not the place to go into an extended criticism of Lukács' work. Suffice it to say that the ideas in "What is Marxism" represent a brilliant study of the Marxian dialectic, though modified by a certain tendency toward the more Hegelian aspects of Marxist thought.
This latter point raises various difficulties for a translator. Where there is a real ambiguity, I have placed the German word in parenthesis after the English translation of it.