Lenin: A Study on the Unity of His Thought is probably most interesting because of what it does not talk about, or even mention. Written immediately after the death of Lenin in 1924, it also marks another, more subtle death: that of Georg Lukacs’ creative independence as a think, philosopher and writer.
Lukacs is considered one of the founding thinkers of “Western Marxism,” an body of ideas and thinking that shy away from Marxism, and the Marxism-Leninism of the Soviets. It led to the Frankfurt School, and from there has flown into what we know know variously as “critical theory”. Thus, along with the Italian Antonio Gramsci, Lukacs has actually had remarkable, though indirect, influence here in the United States.
In 1923, Lukacs published History and Class Consciousness, easily his most important work. It’s magisterial. And seeks to move beyond the work of Marx and to more subtly understand social and cultural aspects of ‘dialectical materialism’. Marx’s writing is heavily economic and based on a rigid concept of “class”, the famous “proletariat” and “bourgeois”. It does not take a whole lot of thought before we realise that society is far more complex then a dynamic of economic classes. Lukacs was one of the first major thinkers to move past Marx in this regard.
Lukacs was Hungarian and thus lived within the Soviet sphere of influence. As an ardent communist, he lived within the legendary “discipline” of the Communist Party. History and Class Consciousness was an attempt to philosophically underpin Marxism. However, as it shows signs of “ultra-lefitsim”, it was an officially controversial book that Lukacs was forced to recant.
It is telling that the magnum opus of probably the only real Soviet thinker was censored and its author forced to recant and refute himself.
Lenin: A Study on the Unity of His Thought is thus interesting because it is, in part, Lukacs’ recantation. It is therefore very much a work of its time, as Lukacs himself is aware (he himself described it as a work of its time in his own 1967 afterword to this book).
A find Lenin to be largely an unoriginal thinker. Unexciting. Irrelevant, mostly. Yes, what he wrote about the relationship between capitalism, war, and imperialism I think was very smart, but that’s about it. His idea about the revolutionary vanguard hardly rates as an academic enterprise at all.