22 March 2013

The Captive Mind of György Lukács

"Let us attempt to resolve the controversy and answer the question whether Lukács was a true philosopher of Stalinism or whether he symbolised for many intellectuals in Eastern Europe all that is progressive and humanistic in Marxism. But above all, there is an intense personal, tragic drama in Lukács’s life..."

It was in the post-1917 years that the tragedy of Lukács unfolded as the Party-state deliberately, diabolically, step-by-step perfected the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a form of the total debasement and enslavement of man and society. In 1918, when at the outset of his brilliant career, Lukács, an aspiring Socrates turned Bolshevik, he made a Devil’s pact with historical necessity. After 1933 when Lukács emigrated to Stalin’s Russia, the Devil moved in full-time to the communal apartment he occupied in Moscow, to look for his fee. In 1941, the Devil knocked loudly at the door. At 3:00 a.m. on 21 June 1941, the telephone rang in the headquarters of the People’s Commissariat for State Security (NKVD) at Lubyanka, or Dom Dva, House Number 2. The caller, Vsevolod Merkulov, a leading figure of the “Beria gang”, summoned the chiefs of all the major departments to his office on the third floor of Lubyanka. Merkulov formally announced that war had broken out, and that the German army had attacked on all fronts. He ordered each department head to propose war measures for immediate implementation. Molotov announced the invasion on Soviet radio at noon on 22 June.
In the Stalinist claque – Lavrenti Beria, Merkulov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Anastas Mikoyan, Nikita Khrushchev and Andrei Vyshinsky – the first three played a key role in the unfolding chain of events that engulfed and almost doomed Lukács. The “war measures” proposed by Beria’s deputy Merkulov were discussed in the Kremlin’s inner sanctum. By 25 June, the dossier on Lukács was on the desk of Merkulov. The incriminating information in the dossier formed the basis for the warrant of Lukács’s arrest, signed by Merkulov.


That Merkulov played a key role in Lukács’s arrest is confirmed by Georgi Dimitrov, head of the Communist International (Comintern) and a trusted member of Stalin’s inner circle. Dimitrov’s diary entry (12 July 1941) reads: “Merkulov reported that Lukács and [László] Rudas have been arrested because in January of 1941 [actually, August 1940], a Hungarian intelligence agent, who was caught at the border, confessed that he had been told to make contact with Lukács and Rudas…”. To give an example of the closeness of Stalin and Dimitrov, consider a diary entry from 11 December 1938: “New instructions, an assignment from Stalin, to work up instructions regarding arrests”.

In his magisterial three volume history, Main Currents of Marxism, Leszek Kołakowski wrote:


„Lukács’s personality and his role in the history of Marxism are, and no doubt will be for a long time, a matter of lively controversy. It is agreed however that he was the most outstanding Marxist philosopher during the period of Stalinist orthodoxy… But it is a matter of dispute whether he was a true philosopher of Stalinism, an intellectual exponent of that particular system, or rather, as some would have it and as he himself often suggested in later times, a kind of Trojan horse – an ostensibly orthodox disciple who, under the pretext of Stalinism, was in fact purveying a “genuine”, non-Stalinist form of Marxism. The question is indeed extremely complicated.”


Let us attempt to resolve the controversy and answer the question whether Lukács was a true philosopher of Stalinism or whether he symbolised  for many intellectuals in Eastern Europe all that is progressive and humanistic in Marxism. But above all, there is an intense personal, tragic drama in Lukács’s life that contains an element of private agony and humiliation to which an outsider has little access.


It was in the post-1917 years that the tragedy of Lukács unfolded as the Party-state deliberately, diabolically, step-by-step perfected the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a form of the total debasement and enslavement of man and society. In 1918, when at the outset of his brilliant career, Lukács, an aspiring Socrates turned Bolshevik, he made a Devil’s pact with historical necessity. After 1933 when Lukács emigrated to Stalin’s Russia, the Devil moved in full-time to the communal apartment he occupied in Moscow, to look for his fee. In 1941, the Devil knocked loudly at the door. At 3:00 a.m. on 21 June 1941, the telephone rang in the headquarters of the People’s Commissariat for State Security (NKVD) at Lubyanka, or Dom Dva, House Number 2. The caller, Vsevolod Merkulov, a leading figure of the “Beria gang”, summoned the chiefs of all the major departments to his office on the third floor of Lubyanka. Merkulov formally announced that war had broken out, and that the German army had attacked on all fronts. He ordered each department head to propose war measures for immediate implementation. Molotov announced the invasion on Soviet radio at noon on 22 June.


In the Stalinist claque – Lavrenti Beria, Merkulov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Anastas Mikoyan, Nikita Khrushchev and Andrei Vyshinsky – the first three played a key role in the unfolding chain of events that engulfed and almost doomed Lukács. The “war measures” proposed by Beria’s deputy Merkulov were discussed in the Kremlin’s inner sanctum. By 25 June, the dossier on Lukács was on the desk of Merkulov. The incriminating information in the dossier formed the basis for the warrant of Lukács’s arrest, signed by Merkulov.


That Merkulov played a key role in Lukács’s arrest is confirmed by Georgi Dimitrov, head of the Communist International (Comintern) and a trusted member of Stalin’s inner circle. Dimitrov’s diary entry (12 July 1941) reads: “Merkulov reported that Lukács and [László] Rudas have been arrested because in January of 1941 [actually, August 1940], a Hungarian intelligence agent, who was caught at the border, confessed that he had been told to make contact with Lukács and Rudas…”. To give an example of the closeness of Stalin and Dimitrov, consider a diary entry from 11 December 1938: “New instructions, an assignment from Stalin, to work up instructions regarding arrests”.1


This “intelligent agent” was a mysterious figure known as István Tímár. The bare facts are these. Born to a family of Jewish intellectuals in Budapest in 1918, Tímár, a socialist sympathiser, was allegedly sent by a Trotskyite group in Budapest to establish contact with Lukács in Moscow. Under torture, Tímár confessed that a counter-revolutionary organisation in Budapest recruited him to establish contact with Comintern members in Moscow, notably Lukács. In his confession, Tímár incriminated Lukács as the “secret agent” of the Hungarian intelligence service.


Tímár was accused of espionage under Article 58 (6) of the Criminal Code of the RSRSR. The article defined espionage thus: the transmission to foreign states of information classified as state secrets is punishable by the “supreme measure of social defence – death by shooting”. The Military Collegium, chaired by the notorious Stalinist judge S. S. Ulrikh, found Tímár guilty. He received the supreme measure. On 6 July 1941, Tímár was summarily shot in the Lubyanka and his body buried in a mass grave. The fabricated evidence extracted under torture from Tímár led to Lukács’s arrest on 29 June. His wife Gertrud, his daughter Anna and the house-porter Alexei Lunin all witnessed his arrest, complete with intrusive brutality, the claws of terror markedly unsheathed, the insolent, uninvited entrance of absolute power in Lukács’s apartment, the emptying out of drawers of cabinets, desktop swept clean of papers, letters and manuscripts.


The confiscated items also included a Royal typewriter, a pocket watch, a worn silk tie, library passes, two savings books with deposits totalling 24,820 roubles, and subscription to Five-Year Plan bonds, totalling 3,900 roubles. The worldly possessions of Lukács amounted to 28,720 roubles. Not a paltry sum when one considers that the “official” salary of Stalin was 1,000 roubles a month.


As the door slammed behind Lukács in his cell in Lubyanka, he must have asked himself the question: What is to be done if it is midnight in the century? What is life, what is history and destiny at a time when thought itself is glacial like the midnight sun on the skull? Lukács knew that he was in an isolation cell, and, if found guilty of “espionage” and “treason against the homeland”, he was to stay there until he was shot.


It is not surprising that Stalin should be in the Kremlin, but rather that Lukács, the greatest Marxist next to Bukharin, should be in Lubyanka, locked in a small six by six feet windowless cell for prisoners about to be executed. Above the spy- hole of his cell door was a card with his name on it: Georgi Ossipovich, No. 815. His jailers gave Lukács, a naturalised Soviet citizen, a new name: Georgi Ossipovich. Free should the Marxist philosopher be – free and brave.


A meteoric fame that falls as quickly as it came – Georgi Ossipovich in a solitary cell where he was preceded by Nikolai Bukharin. Lukács was in Moscow when the Great Terror, 1936–1938, and repression that marked Stalin’s reign swept Bukharin to his doom. He was shot in Lubyanka prison, 1938, and cremated at the Donskoy Monastery.


One day Bukharin was living in the Kremlin, close to Stalin, working on his manuscript of Goethe’s Faust, the next day he was passing through the gates of the Lubyanka, handing over his possessions, being stripped, having his rectum checked, and then being locked in a cell. He was not tortured.


One day Lukács was living in a small apartment in Moscow, with his wife and daughter, working on his manuscript of Goethe and His Age, the next day he was passing through the gates of the Lubyanka, handing over his possessions, being stripped, having his rectum checked, and then being locked in a cell. He was not tortured. From a historical standpoint, this strangest of all strange things, the presence of Goethe and his Faust in Lubyanka remains a spectacle for the gods. The “classical” Goethe and his intellectual and philosophical Faust have accompanied Lukács through his life. They were with him, in spirit, in Lubyanka. We are not surprised then that in Darkness at Noon, Koestler wrote: “On Rubashov’s knee lay a book: Goethe’s Faust in the Reclaim’s Universal Edition”.


Where is this to end? It ended with Bukharin and Lukács, the armed and unarmed prophets in love with Goethe, who decided not to live but to wager on the creation of a new world. Like Faust, Bukharin and Lukács experienced a moment so beautiful that they wished it to be prolonged – the revolutionary dawn of the new world.


If ever to the moment I shall say:

 

"Beautiful moment, do not pass away!

Then you may forge your chains to bind me,

Then I will put my life behind me,

And let them hear my death-knell toll…"


"But now, I, Georgi Ossipovich Lukacs, sit in a solitary cell and wonder what I have done. What sort of prison hole is this? How uselessly I have laboured to collect, to interpret and to enrich Marxism with the treasures of human intellect. But now I, Georgi Ossipovich Lukacs, sit in a solitary cell, silently shifting the centre of gravity of life out of life into the “Beyond” – into nothingness."


Neither his education, nor his credentials as a revolutionary Marxist or his experience as militant communist prepared him in the slightest for the greatest trial of his life: being arrested, accused of espionage, and interrogated by Stalin’s henchmen who followed a simple instruction: “Arrest, try, shoot”.


Lukács was convinced that he was spared the long-drawn-drama of Bukharin, whom Stalin’s lead prosecutor in the Great Trials, Andrei Vyshinsky compared to Judas Iscariot, a “cross between a fox and a pig”, and accused him of having plotted to murder Lenin, because he refused to answer Bukharin’s siren call. As Lukács put it shortly before his death (1971) when he recorded an autobiographical sketch on tape:


In Moscow, Bukharin gave me a friendly reception and arranged contact. But I turned it down. Were it not for that fortunate circumstance, I would have been drawn into the Stalinist purges… I thought the trials monstrous, but consoled myself by saying that we had taken up sides with Robespierre, even though the trial of Danton, from the legal point of view, was not much better than the trial of Bukharin… Danton was never a traitor and never lost faith in the republic, as Robespierre claimed. The same could not so clearly have been said of the accused in the Stalin trials… I consider him [Bukharin] to have been a man of extraordinary integrity. I believe he was a bad Marxist, but that does not provide grounds for executing him.


Lukács went even further. He considered the Great Trials a “historical necessity” and, as late as 1962, said that despite the “mistakes of Stalin” it did not follow that the victims of Stalin’s purges, like Trotsky and his followers, should be rehabilitated politically.


Casually, Lukács drew the cynical parallel: “Stalin used the same weapons against Trotsky as Robespierre had used against Danton”. No wonder, Lukács ever questioned the Leninist foundations on which the whole Stalinist system was based, nor did he object to the principle of one-party dictatorship. To the end of his life, he was categorical: the Party cannot and must not be subject to public control.


Lukács had no sympathy for Bukharin, who, as an alternative to Stalin, believed that in socialism it is possible to govern without the use of terror, to allow free cultural development, to show respect for art, science and national tradition. It is difficult not to agree with Kołakowski’s conclusion that Lukács only criticised Stalinism “from within Stalinism itself”.


Despite all the revelations about Stalin and Stalinism and Lukács’s own intimate, terrible knowledge of the Soviet despot, who signed long lists of death sentences day after day, Lukács could still write as late as 1970:


In the Soviet Union of the 1930s many of us, thinking of Stalin, heaved a sigh, “Ah, si le roi le savait”. Of course we ultimately realised that Stalin inhibited the development of independent thinking. I clearly saw that all the decisions in this historical context, everything, and everything – be it the most sacred personal values or my own work – must be unconditionally subordinated to the interest and existence of socialism… A convinced communist had one choice: Right or wrong, my party. We had to express solidarity with Stalin fighting Fascism. This solidarity transcended everything else – it was our sacred duty.2


Practically on his death bed, Lukács could still reaffirm his conviction: “I have always thought that the worst form of socialism was better to live than the best form of capitalism”. What a monstrous paradox faith is, a paradox capable of making a tyrannical system into an ideal well pleasing to History, a paradox which gives us Lukács in Lubyanka, which no thought can grasp because faith begins where thinking leaves off. No one captured this paradox better than Victor Serge, who knew Lukács during his Vienna exile and later in Moscow:


I held Lukács in the greatest esteem; indeed, I owe him a great deal. A former university teacher in Budapest, and then commissar to the Red division in the front line, Lukács was a philosopher. Steeped in the works of Hegel, Marx and Freud, and possessing a free-ranging and vigorous mind… In him I saw a first-rate brain which could have endowed Communism with a true intellectual greatness if it had developed as a social movement instead of degenerating into a movement of solidarity with an authoritarian Power. Lukács’s thinking led him to a totalitarian vision of Marxism within which he united all aspects of human life; his theory of the Party could be taken as either superb or disastrous, depending on the circumstances.3


It was this “authoritarian Power” that arrested and confined Lukács to Lubyanka for sixty days. Lubyanka, like death itself, equalises all whom it engulfs: be it Viktor Serge, Bukharin, or Lukács. As for the “extraordinary integrity” of Bukharin which Lukács admired, here is an excerpt from Bukharin’s letter to Stalin (10 December 1937):


"I am writing you for your personal information. I cannot leave this life without writing you the last lines because I am in the grip of torments which you should know about… There is something great and bold about the political idea of a general purge. When I was hallucinating, I saw you several times and once I saw Nadezhda Sergeevna [Stalin’s late wife]. She approached me and said: “What have they done with you, Nikolai Ivanovich?” ... Oh, Lord, if only there were some device which would have made it possible for you to see my soul flayed and ripped open! If only you could see how I am attached to you, body and soul. If I am to receive the death sentence, then I implore you beforehand, I entreat you, by all that you hold dear, not to have me shot. Let me drink poison in my cell instead (let me have morphine so that I can fall asleep and never wake up)… Have pity on me. Surely you’ll understand – knowing me as well as you do… So if the verdict is death, let me have a cup of morphine. I implore you."


Though Lukács pleaded for no “cup of morphine” in Lubyanka, he too learned and endured what it means to be a great Marxist, undergoing the trial of faith. Consider the mise en scène in Lubyanka. Lukács’s manuscript on Goethe and His Age is incinerated; “destroyed by fire”, states the inventory which the KGB made of the seized papers of Lukács. From the central Lubyanka prison in the late 1930s, a soot-stained chimney sprinkled Moscow with the ash of incinerated manuscripts. The loss of the Goethe MS haunted Lukács for years to come. In preface to Goethe and His Age (1947), he wrote:

The Goethe problem cannot be exhausted, even if my book were to provide detailed answers to all these questions. A special monograph on Goethe would be necessary for that. For years I planned, and even prepared such a monograph. Unfortunately, all the material for it was lost in an unfortunate turn of events during the war, so that I must temporarily forego the completion of this task.”


The “unfortunate turn of events” is an abstraction which conceals Lukács’s two months internment in Lubyanka, 29 June–25 August 1941. Lukács’s deliberate act of concealment is not defensible by any account, least of all ethically or morally. His ethical task is to unwrap himself from this concealment and disclose for us his own experience and conduct. Lukács’s act of choosing to stay in concealment neither exemplifies his integrity nor does it arouse my admiration.


Lukács does nothing for transparency or truth. He is concealed, he is silent. His glorification of the totalitarian system is so passionate, his faith, his dogmatism is so absolute, and almost sublime in its perfection. It is this, this faith, this dogmatism that determines Lukács’s silence. For there was no one in Stalin’s Russia, with its Great Trials and Great Terror who had experienced, who knew so much and said so little or remained so silent as Lukács. The reality, the truth displaced by his pitiable lie is past belief. When asked if in Stalin’s Russia he was ever arrested, Lukács replied: “I had a small apartment; it did not interest the KGB”.


That poison, concealment and lie extends much further than one thinks. We have discovered the arrogant dogmatic instinct wherever Lukács considers himself to be a “Marxist” – wherever he assumes, by virtue of a true believer, a right to cast a superior look at Stalin’s actuality above which the mind and soul soar in pure self-sufficiency.


The fundamental rule of Lukács’s life was to ignore reality. He clearly saw that the “new world” he was so passionately, so actively helping to build was horrifyingly unlike the original concept. Facing his own torment in the solitary cell, he must have realised that life was deviating from the blueprints. But the blueprints had been declared sacrosanct and his absolute faith forbade him to compare them with what was actually coming into being. In Lubyanka, Lukács had a vivid impression of the “new world” as it was constructed in front of his very eyes, and was hence one of the first to learn where the threat lay. No one who has not shared Lukács’s experience in Lubyanka knows what socialism with Stalin’s face was like.


Lukács’s autobiography, Lived Thought, dictated when he was close to death, is to the modern sensibility irritatingly unrevealing. He constructs a self that is the sum total of public actions: Marxist, Party ideologue, revolutionary. He locates his essential self in the arena of political, theoretical accomplishments rather than in private life and private emotions. Lukács dreaded and feared exposing himself.

 

If the whole art of government consists in the art of being honest, the triple injunctions to please yet persuade, to use self control and yet stimulate passions in others, to reveal one self and yet efface one self, then Lukács failed to meet this exhausting challenge.


The great moral rule of sincerity is that we speak nothing contrary to truth, that coming before the tribunal of humanity is, as Socrates exemplifies, the quintessential moment of one’s moral existence. Experience teaches us that truth is greater than a political-ideological or even a social ideal. Lukács’s true virtue inheres less in a transparent openness than in concealment.


In his body of work the message was never one of intellectual emancipation from received authorities, the Party or ideology, in the interest of common good. He embodied the repressive orthodoxy of Marxist thought, a position that stemmed from his belief that absolute certainty, never to be interpreted or corrected, in all matters was the first step toward truth. Absolutist instinct and certitude are doubtless noble ideals, but where on this moonlit and utopia-visited planet are they found?


The problem I raise here is Lukács’s concept of truth and his interaction with his disciples. No one expressed it more poignantly than George Steiner:


„Masters have destroyed their disciples both psychologically and, in rare cases, physically. They have broken their spirits, consumed their hopes, and exploited their dependence and individuality. The domain of the soul has its vampires… By a process of interaction, of osmosis, the Master learns from his disciples as he teaches them. The intensity of the dialogue generates friendship in the highest sense. It can enlist both the clear-sightedness and unreason of love… There are disciples who have felt unable to survive their Masters.”4


But there are disciples who have not only survived their Masters, but transcended and outgrew them. Consider Ágnes Heller, the most brilliant and renowned disciple of Lukács. In her autobiography she is forthright. “I would not have remained in the Party had I not met Lukács. The communism the Party represented had no appeal for me. Lukács embodied the Party. Therefore I identified communism and later Marxism with Lukács. It is through Lukács that I became a Marxist”5.


Heller, face to face with world-historical individuality, draws back the curtain on the Master’s self-deceptive perfection.


"For Lukács, the Party and its cause transcended everything else. But personally he insisted we should love him more than the Party. We must place his truth above the truth of the Party. It is not that he wanted us to love the Party more than his truth, which would have been obvious. No, he insisted we must accept he is right. The truth of the Party is not the truth… He was a traditional philosopher. He truly believed that the world spirit resided in his head. It cannot take up residence in anywhere else than in the philosophy of Lukács. The important events are mere phenomena whose substance or essences indwell in his mind."6


Here was a revelation of the human spirit, a drama of intellect. Inevitably, Heller considered Lukács “less of my Master, instead he became a dear old man”. The onetime Master now strikes her as a moth-eaten old man. All rights belong to youth, to its Icarian flight and creation of new worlds. Deference and discipleship have crumbled to dust.


Enough of the living world-spirit’s arcane idiom that makes the disciple’s head turn like a millstone. Enough of the delusional singularity and grandeur of Lukács! As world-spirit, it is Lukács who determines the Wherefore and Whither of mankind; it is Lukács who reaches for the future with a creative hand, and everything that is or has been becomes for him a means, an instrument, a hammer. His knowing is creating, his creating is law making, his will to truth is the truth. You cannot be more arrogant than that.


By his very victory based on blood and judgement, by liquidating the Old Bolsheviks, Stalin incarnated world-historical reason which, as Heller tells us, Lukács adopted as his own principle. He was never tempted to renounce the idea of the essential superiority of Stalinist socialism, let alone challenge the ideological foundation of Bolshevism. The value of his own life – the betrayal of philosophy and reason by the one whose profession is to use and defend it, the moral incapacity not to face, not to react to ugly reality – had no part in Lukács’s idea of communism.


What sets Lukács apart and makes him unique is his conviction, his willingness to be sacrificed to communism? Conviction sanctifies: consequently it lies. Lukács accords the highest honours to conviction, the ground and force of his being; it takes his whole intellect into its service. He lived in a world where the pillars of truth were at the same time the pillars of a ruthless political order. His Marxism emerged in a politically enslaved world whose foundations he helped to lay.


As a representative thinker, a literary figure, a world renowned Marxist, few men have bequeathed to the future more revealing hints of the stormy twentieth century, its fierce paradoxes, its warring ideologies, and its wars and revolutions, than Lukács. One may include among the lessons of his legendary life – even though that life stretched to amazing length – how behind the tally of Marxist philosopher stands the captive mind, and gives a sort of casting vote. The last stage of the captive mind is that, accused of espionage under Article 58 (6), Lukács knew he heard his death-sentence. That instant he dies. Unless we grasp that it requires all the strength of spirit to die, that the tragic hero always dies before his death, we will not come particularly far in our analyses of Lukács’s humiliation in Lubyanka.


Extraordinary as it may seem, while his jailers fed the fire with his manuscript, and he could expect no mercy, Lukács was commanded to lecture to KGB officers on the Bolshevik Party, the history of Trotskyism and Leninism. The KGB is very inventive when comes to comedia dell’arte, when it comes to enact comic drama that strains our imagination by its gratuitous villainy.


This prison scene is comparable to what transpired in Florence in 1513. Four months after Machiavelli’s dismissal as Secretary of the Florentine Republic, a plot against the Medicis is discovered. The new regime has found a piece of paper listing twenty possible supporters of a plot to assassinate Cardinal Giuliano Medici. On the list is Niccolo’s name. He protests his innocence, as did Lukács, is thrown in prison, as was Lukács, and put to torture, which Lukács was not, to extract information.


In Lubyanka, Lukács lectures to his jailers; in prison, Machiavelli composed what may be called “The Prison Sonnets”. One sonnet, addressed to Cardinal Giuliano, who also had written verses, and who may help him, describes his state of mind, while the executioner’s axe waits outside the door.


„I have, Giuliano, a pair of shackles on my legs with six hoists of the rope on my shoulders:

my other miseries I do not want to talk about, as this is the way poets are to be treated!”


In Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler describes an attempt to break the morale of Rubashov – his “Rubashov” is modelled on Bukharin in his thinking – by dragging a savagely tortured prisoner past his cell to execution. That such scene was enacted before Lukács’s cell is possible. In Lubyanka, even prominent, loyal Party members were hardly better treated than slaves were by Plato.


To resume, as if by miracle, Niccolo walked out free of the Bargello, the Florentine palazzo where tortures and executions were performed. In his political writings Machiavelli claims that great men, leaders or a new prince, have God for their friend, they are “friends of God” and God is their friend. Why is it so important that these men have God for a friend? A great deal depends on who God is.


But who is the friend of Marxist thinkers? Who is Lukács’s God who can intercede and help? It is his wife Gertrud, and Fortune, the fickle goddess with gifts she offers to those she loves. Unknown to Lukács, his wife Gertrud, a truly committed communist, appealed to Stalin’s partner in crime, torture and mass slaughter.

 

Dear Comrade Molotov

8 July 1941


To: Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov

From: Lukacs Janosi Gertrud

Chkalov Street, 22/23 No.68


I implore you to exert influence for the immediate release and rehabilitation of my husband, Georg Lukács, who was arrested on 29 June. Lukács, a well known Hungarian writer, philosopher-publicist, a communist since 1919… is a Soviet citizen. His irreproachable, self-sacrificing Party activities are widely recognised by leaders of the Hungarian, Austrian and German CP (Mátyás Rákosi, Ernő Gerő, Wilhelm Pieck, Johann Koplenig, Ernst Fischer), also foreign writers, for example Johannes R. Becher and Sándor Gergely. Lukács’s profound devotion to the Soviet cause is well known to many members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences (academicians P. F. Yudin and Jenő Varga, also Elena Usievich, M. M. Rosenthal, V. C. Kamenev, F. M. Levin, M. A. Lifshitz, Tamara Motilova).” His arrest is a devastating, unjust blow of fate, and, given his age and state of health, life threatening. One must also consider that at this time, Lukács could be of great service to the Soviet Union and international communism. The name of Lukács is far-reaching outside the borders of the Soviet Union. He enjoys great prestige in the left circles of Europe, among anti-Fascist circles, in England and America. A number of facts attest this. Lukács received honourable mention in Thomas Mann’s Reflections of a Non-Political Man, Johannes R. Becker dedicated a sonnet to Lukács, and Arnold Zweig wrote a friendly letter to my husband. He also received letters from English and American intellectuals, letters in the hand of security organs. The anti-Fascist pen of Lukács, the personal prestige he commands, would mobilise and enlist the sympathy of European intellectuals for the Soviet Union. He would encourage the undecided to join the anti-Fascist Popular Front. The release and rehabilitation of Lukács is our common cause."


She signed the letter: J. Gertrud, wife of Georgi Ossipovich Lukacs.7


It is interesting to note the names of those who can testify to Lukács’s credentials as a communist. Yudin was one of Stalin’s favourite hack philosophers. China’s revolutionary leader Mao Tse-tung would drive to the house of Soviet Ambassador P. F. Yudin for a late night visit. “Yudin was an intellectual. Mao would discuss philosophy with him until dawn. The doctrinal adjustments that some of Mao’s essays underwent before reappearing in the Selected Works probably owned something to these night-owl dialogues.”8


As for Elena Usievich, the daughter of a prominent Polish communist Feliks Kon (both had returned with Lenin from Zurich in 1917 in the armoured car), she was one of the editors of Literaturnii Kritik; its leading contributor was Lukács who lived in the Soviet Union from 1929 to 1931 and 1933 to 1945.


The revealing thing about the names listed in Gertrud’s letter is that these individuals stood in opposition to all intellectual well-being and integrity. From Rákosi to Yudin, they could and did use only the dogmatic mind as the Marxist mind, they took the side of everything pre-approved and idiotic, they proclaimed a curse against the “spirit”, against the superbia of the healthy human spirit.


At this point, let us quote Lukács:


"It must not be forgotten that the practical influence of Stalinism made itself being felt via the central Party apparatus. I do not know why, but it was undoubtedly the case that Stalin thought of the philosophers Mitin and Yudin as his men. They therefore played an important role on the Central Committee, and Yudin could make use of Usievich to negotiate concessions for Literaturnii Kritik. That was why I was spared at the period of the great trials; in fact, none of the activists on the board of Literaturnii Kritik became victims of the purges. I was fortunate that Usievich was my Moscow friend. She in turn was friendly with Yudin… we were protected by Yudin."9


These academicians and party functionaries were associated with Lukács in the period when the role of Stalin and of the Politburo and the NKVD were decisive in art, in literature, in everything. It is a staggering fact. From 1930 until the dictator’s death in 1953 there was virtually not a single ideological and therefore cultural question before the Politburo in which the decision was not made by Stalin or, for that matter, Molotov.


Speaking Bolshevik was an obligatory part of functioning, and, yes, surviving in Stalin’s society. Lukács by his own admission sprinkles his texts with Stalin quotes. Even his wife writes Bolshevik to Molotov, the most deplorable example of human depravity. Molotov had waged war to the death against Bukharin; he was convinced that Bukharin had joined in a conspiracy to assassinate Lenin; he with Stalin countersigned numerous, lengthy arrest and execution lists.


With his cold blooded cynicism, Molotov assesses nations, epochs, individuals according to whether they were conducive to the rule of Stalin. The arrogant self-inflation of Molotov takes one’s breath away for it admits of no comparison: “Stalin and I, we grew up in the spirit of Bolshevism, in the spirit of truth.”10


Gertrud wrote to no purpose, Molotov was no “friend” willing to intercede and help. The “friend” turned out to be Party leader Rákosi who called upon Dimitrov to intercede on behalf of Lukács. That Rákosi felt sympathy for Lukács is not surprising.


To celebrate the twenty-third anniversary of the Russian Revolution, there was a gala event at the Bolshoi Theatre. Rákosi sat in the first row.


Dimitrov’s diary entry (6 November 1940) reads:


"During intermission, STALIN: How is Rákosi?

DIMITROV: Feeling fine, but a reaction will obviously set in after lengthy imprisonment.

STALIN: He does not sympathise with the Trotskyites?

DIMITROV: No. He is holding out staunchly. Even in prison, in connection with the trial of Trotskyites, he took a firm position against the Trotskyites.

STALIN: All of them wavered at one time or another. They did not understand our business.

DIMITROV: The release of Rákosi is a great October gift for the Comintern!"


Stalin was wrong. Bukharin, Lukács and others did understand the “business” of

Stalin. In his memoirs, written in Moscow, Rákosi writes:


"Dimitrov was not exactly pleased with my request to intercede on behalf of Lukács. Though he did not refuse, he felt uncomfortable. When I put pressure on him, he promised to raise the issue with Stalin. In the meanwhile, I made the mistake of making a direct appeal to Beria. I called him on the phone. When he heard what I wanted to discuss, he cut me short, angry: 'I see, your specialty now is to secure the release of our enemies.'"11


The menacing words of Beria had the finality of a naked blade. But Dimitrov, who was on friendly terms with Lukács and worked together with him in Vienna in the Comintern, did raise the question of Lukács with Stalin. The Great Leader listened, sullen and silent, to Dimitrov’s earnest appeal on behalf of Lukács.


And so it happened. Between two pulls at his Dunhill pipe, Stalin scribbled on a piece of paper and signed an order for Lukács’s release. Socialism had been waiting too long for a glimpse of God on earth – Stalin. His acts of violence, terror and mercy were an expression of a dislocated world. Life and death was Stalin’s prerogative. It was performed in a universe hushed in moral stillness. Stalin’s laconic directive for releasing Lukács was co-signed by Beria in pencil, a symbol of his displeasure with the decision. Stalin and Beria despised each other but were made twins by past crimes, mutual envy and complimentary fox-like cunning.


Two months after his arrest, Lukács walked out of the prison gates of Lubyanka. The whole experience of Lubyanka and death-in-life, Lukács summed up in three sentences: “I went though one of the greatest purges known to history. I was arrested and held in detention for two months. That can only be described as good luck.”


Perhaps it was Fortune that aided Lukács’s release. Fortune is a Woman. He interchanges fortune with Gertrud and couples fortune with occasion and times. Lukács’s quintessential equivalence: Fortune = woman = Gertrud is in harmony with his love of his wife.


As Gertrud is nearing death (1963), Lukács pays her a moving tribute by copying lines from Shakespeare’s Sonnet XVIII:


 „…thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”



 

1 The Diary of Georgi Dimitrov, 1933-1949, Yale University Press, 2003.
2 Lukács, György, Utam Marxhoz [My Road to Marx], Budapest, Magvető, 1971, vol. II, pp. 302–03.
3 Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary 1901–1941, Oxford University Press, 1963, p. 187.
4 George Steiner, Lessons of the Masters, Harvard University Press, 2003, p. 2.
5 Heller, Ágnes – Kőbányai, János, Bicikliző majom, Budapest, Múlt és Jövő könyvek, 1998, p. 72.
6 Bicikliző Majom, pp. 89–90, 131.
7 Vallatás a Lubjankában. Lukács György vizsgálati ügyiratai – Életrajzi dokumentumok [Interrogation in Lubyanka Prison. György Lukács’s Records of Inquiry – Biographical Documents], Argumentum Kiadó – Lukács Archívum, 2002, pp. 65–68.
8 Ross Terrill, Mao: a Biography, New York, Harper Row, 1980, p. 222.
9 Georg Lukacs, Record of A Life, Verso Editions, 1983, p. 97.
10 Molotov Remembers Inside Kremlin Politics, Ivan R. Dee Publisher, 1993, p. 64.
11 Rákosi, Mátyás, Visszaemlékezések, 1940–1956 [Remembrance], Budapest, Napvilág, 1997, Vol. I, pp. 25.
 



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