Love and the Revolution in “History and Class Consciousness”

September 18, 2008

The fact that the course of history was so different from the one envisaged by Lukacs gives some indication that something was missing from the scheme of things in “History and Class Consciousness.” One of these was surely love.

We will deal with sexual love in the next post. Here the issue is love of a more political nature – like the love of the patriot. According to Lukacs’ scheme of things patriotic love must be dismissed as irrational or bourgeois or counter-revolutionary. It must be dismissed because there is no place for it in the concept of the identical subject-object of history. Now there is the question of whether patriotism really is irrational, but what interests me here is more the question of whether love must not be part of the revolution.

Unfortunately Lukacs says nothing about the love of the revolutionary in “History and Class Consciousness.” Revolution seems to arise as a matter of necessity as the proletariat struggles for its very survival against a ruling class that insists on squeezing more and more out of it. At a moment of crisis the working class might fight back to defend itself, but for this to spill over into a revolution that would be sustained in the way that is envisaged in “History and Class Consciousness” wouldn’t people have to start to love being proletarians or revolutionaries?

In “History and Class Consciousness” it all sounds completely intellectual once the crisis forces the proletariat to fight back. The philosopher-historians in the party help the workers to understand how they are the real source of all value in capitalism whilst being treated as an expendable resource and whilst being denied any power. And the workers are also supposed to gradually understand their role as the first historical agents who are guided by an insight into the real essence of history (the insight that history is absolutely unconditioned because all categories are historical to their very core). But this is all so theoretical, however true it may be. Once the crisis is past, will the revolutionary momentum be sustained simply by the idea that now history has achieved its true form? Must there not be an affective tie to the revolutionary movement? Must we not love being proletarians? Must we not love the revolution and the situation it creates where nothing any longer seems to be solid or fixed – where everything is up for negotiation or reform or obliteration by the party?

But doesn’t revolution appear to be chaotic, and is it not difficult to love revolution? There are many other things to love – things that the white heat of the revolution might jeopardize. These stand in the way of the revolution, and Lukacs would need to come up with a persuasive critique of them. He seems to say so little about them in “History and Class Consciousness” because of the assumption that the proletariat are being pushed into such a desperate situation that these other objects of love cease to be of much significance. The struggle for survival, which has to be waged collectively to match the power of the ruling class, is the only priority. But are these people who have nothing to love but the revolution the people we would want to hold up as exemplary?

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