Monday, January 6, 2014

Barbarism on the Horizon: An Interview With István Mészáros

by Eleonora de Lucena
Lucena: Mr. István Mészáros, you are coming to visit Brazil to talk about György Lukács. As a profound expert of the work of the philosopher, how do you evaluate the importance of his ideas today? 
Mészáros: György Lukács was my great teacher and friend for twenty-two years, until he died in 1971.  He started publishing as a politically conscious literary critic almost seventy years earlier, moving toward the discussion of fundamental philosophical issues as time went by.  Three of his major works in that field -- History and Class Consciousness (1923), The Young Hegel (1948), and The Destruction of Reason (1954) -- will always stand the test of time.  His historical and aesthetic studies on great German, French, English, Russian, and Hungarian literary figures continue to be most influential in many university departments.  Moreover, he is also the author of a monumental aesthetic synthesis which, I am sure, will see the light one day also in Brazil.  More fortunately, his equally monumental volumes on the problems of the ontology of social being are being published right now in this country by Boitempo Editorial.  They address some vital issues of philosophy which also have far-reaching implications for our everyday life and ongoing struggles.  What is less well known about Lukács's life is that he was directly involved at high levels of political organization between 1919 and 1929.  He was Minister of Culture and Education in the short-lived revolutionary government of 1919 in Hungary, which emerged from the great crisis of the First World War.  In the Party he belonged to the "Landler Faction" -- indeed he was its second in command.  This faction -- named after Jenö Landler, who was a leading trade unionist before becoming a high-ranking party figure -- tried to pursue a broader strategic line, with much greater involvement of the popular masses.  Lukács was defeated in direct politics in 1929.  However, way back in 1919, in one of his articles (you can find it quoted in my book on Lukács now published by Boitempo), he warned that the communist movement could face a great danger when "the proletariat turns its dictatorship against itself."  He proved to be tragically prophetic in this warning.  In any case, in all of his public roles, political as much as theoretical, one can find his great moral stature always in evidence.  Nowadays we read so much about corruption in politics.  One can also see Lukács's importance as a positive example, showing that morality and politics not only ought to (as Kant advocated it) but also can go together.
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