History morphed into something which people could lay their hands upon and make their own, thereby changing the world. My Petrograd! But his essay has been widely described as idealist, as over-playing the role of consciousness in the development of class struggle. The reason for this is quite clear - the essay itself is a concentrated examination of the forms of consciousness which take shape in, and affect, bourgeois society.
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History morphed into something which people could lay their hands upon and make their own, thereby changing the world. My Petrograd! But his essay has been widely described as idealist, as over-playing the role of consciousness in the development of class struggle.
The reason for this is quite clear - the essay itself is a concentrated examination of the forms of consciousness which take shape in, and affect, bourgeois society. To someone unable to penetrate the heart of this work - its methodological depth - it will appear to be idealist precisely because of its subject matter consciousness.
Although the focus of the essay is consciousness and its reified states, that from which all other categories are deduced and take shape from is the commodity form itself. Lukas never once loses sight of this. This development came with the development of industrial capitalism. Before the development of modern capitalism, any one product was the visible and organic unity of a series of different operations. The cobbler would be skilled in the various stages of work required to make the shoe.
He was overseer to the whole process and the completed article was the conscious end of his endeavours. Moving from handicrafts through to factory production, the qualititative element is increasingly phased out. The labour process is relentlessly broken down: split into isolated and specialised routines, such that the end product is lost to the individuals that create it. The X hour day, time sheets, clocking in machines and the factory gong are not the super objective, time honoured means by which a fair and precise exchange of labour for wages is facilitated.
The reality of social existence is, in a certain way, the same for both proletariat and bourgeoisie but only in its immediacy. Though both the capitalist class and the proletariat are expressions of human alienation, differences in exploitation to the capitalist appear as necessarily quantitative. An increase or decrease in wage for the worker is a qualitative fact which permeates their inner life. It determines standard of living. This is profoundly important because it shows just how the bourgeoisie is bound to the most immediate and quantifiable forms of thought by its objective class position.
This is the essence of reification - the sense of powerlessness and passivity brought about by those things which, though created by human beings, assume a life over and above them.
The proletarian is denied the chance to be master of his work, to envisage the total process by which is created an end product, and to realise his own personality. Ideology and consciousness in capitalist society The commodity form exerts its influence more broadly. A single factory is a highly organized unit but the same factory considered alongside others enters into a broken and disordered chain.
When it comes into contact with other factories, that which brings them together is nothing more than arbitrariness.
It is blind compulsion, the force of competition. There is nothing necessary in the connection. A conscious, totalizing principle is almost always absent war time economies are sometimes exceptions. It presupposes a society so structured.
It produces and reproduces this structure so far as it takes possession of society. Trotsky once wondered how it was possible that the man who formulated the theory of evolution was in the same moment a devoted believer in God. When scientists seek totality intuitively and unconsciously, for there is no other means available to them within the parameters of bourgeois thought, they often discover the notion of the whole preserved in the fixed and unchanging guise of God.
Of course there are scientists who reject God, or do not even try to grasp the ontological problems of our age. There are a good few scientists and we see this a lot nowadays who raise an ontological problem over and above their own specialisation; a problem which does indeed confront all human beings in totality. But this problem is not deduced from a concrete analysis of the connections between those human beings and the processes which animate them, but instead comes into being fully formed and therefore, like God himself, artificially whole.
And so it is compelled to concentrate on these details so the details themselves emerge as the reality at the expense of the connections between them.
They both turned out to be equally impotent. But this is an illusion…. This is relevant today. On a psychological level there are many people to whom real change seems incomprehensible and also, therefore, frightening. This is the result, maybe, of the depth of reification which 21st century society experiences.
There are others who embrace immediacy and exalt their own ignorance. Many of the ugliest things in society - racism, sexism, prejudice - emerge somehow fortified by their superficiality and baseness. Overcoming the limits of contradictory consciousness But is it possible for human beings to overcome this narrowness, to transcend immediacy?
If so, then how? But in addition is the determining form of his existence as subject, as human being. Hence the consciousness of the true nature of a social system based on the sale of commodities is for the proletariat at the same time a consciousness of self. It is no longer a thing to be explained by the intervention of transcendental powers or made meaningful by reference to transcendental values.
But it is not enough to raise this standpoint in consciousness alone. What is required is the active intervention which such consciousness paves the way for. Man must prove the truth, i. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question. This gives a more concrete form to the proposition that the proletariat is the identical subject-object of the historical process, i. It turns out that the contradictions in which the antagonisms of the mechanics of history are expressed are only capable of an objective social solution in practice if the solution is at the same time a new, practically-won consciousness on the part of the proletariat.
Whether an action is functionally right or wrong is decided ultimately by the evolution of proletarian class consciousness. He understands that the objective economic evolution of society creates the conditions and the necessity for its revolutionary transformation, but also that without the conscious appreciation of this necessity on the part of the proletariat the situation comes to nothing. Class consciousness is the mediation through which the actions of the proletariat can be self determined and therefore free.
It is in and through this process that the revolutionary party is formed. Tragically, the revolution was physically annihilated. Revolutionary movements rose throughout the world and were betrayed and defeated while the Stalinist apparatus grew increasingly powerful.
It is hard not to contrast his situation with that of Leon Trotsky who made not a single concession to Stalinism and was subsequently murdered. If you enjoyed this article please donate to Counterfire.
Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat To be radical is to go to the root of the matter. For man, however, the root is man himself. IT is no accident that Marx should have begun with an analysis of commodities when, in the two great works of his mature period, he set out to portray capitalist society in its totality and to lay bare its fundamental nature. For at this stage in the history of mankind there is no problem that does not ultimately lead back to that question and there is no solution that could not be found in the solution to the riddle of commodity-structure. That is to say, the problem of commodities must not be considered in isolation or even regarded as the central problem in economics, but as the central, structural problem of capitalist society in all its aspects.
Georg [György] Lukács
The conceptual and historical foundation for this has been laid by the methodological problems of economics: by dissolving the fetishistic objects into processes that take place among men and are objectified in concrete relations between them; by deriving the indissoluble fetishistic forms from the primary forms of human relations. At the conceptual level the structure of the world of men stands revealed as a system of dynamically changing relations in which the conflicts between man and nature, man and man in the class struggle, etc. The structure and the hierarchy of the categories are the index of the degree of clarity to which man has attained concerning the foundations of his existence in these relations, i. At the same time this structure and this hierarchy are the central theme of history. History is no longer an enigmatic flux to which men and things are subjected. It is no longer a thing to be explained by the intervention of transcendental powers or made meaningful by reference to transcendental values. So that if — as we emphasised earlier on — the categories describing the structure of a social system are not immediately historical, i.