Jump to content

SoL 2.4: Lukacs and the Problem of Reification

Recommended Posts



Lukacs's theory is based on the idea that, in the world of commodity values, subjects are themselves evaluated and, as a result, transformed into 'things', a point expressed by the term Verdinglichung (reification), which did not play this role in Marx. Marx had said that relations between commodities (equivalence, price, exchange) were endowed with autonomy and that, as a result, they not only came to substitute for personal relations, but to represent those relations.

Lukacs, for his part, combines two different ideas. The first of these is the idea that market-based objectivity - that of economic categories and the operations to which they give rise - is the model of all objectivity, particularly of 'scientific' objectivity in the bourgeois world, which would enable us to understand why the quantitative sciences of nature (mechanics, physics) develop in the modern era as commodity relations become generalized. Those sciences project onto nature a distinction between the subjective and objective which has its origin in practices of exchange. The second is the idea that objectification - or rationalization as calculation and assessment of value - extends to all human activities, i.e. that the commodity becomes the model and the form of every social object. Thus Lukacs describes a paradox: market-based rationality extended to science is based on a separation of the objective and subjective sides of experience (which makes it possible to subtract the subjective factor - needs, desires, consciousness - from the world of natural objects and their mathematical laws); but this is merely a prelude to the incorporation of all subjectivity into objectivity (or to its reduction to the status of object, as is revealed by the notion of the 'human sciences' or by the techniques of management of the 'human factor' which have progressively been extended to the whole of society).

In reality, this paradox expresses the extreme state of alienation humanity has reached in capitalism and this allows Lukacs to argue, in a manner similar to Marx in The German Ideology (which he could not have read at this stage, since the text was not published until 1932), that revolutionary transformation is imminent. However, he formulates these arguments in a much more speculative (Hegelian and Schellingian) language and adds an element of political messianism: the proletariat, whose transformation into an object is total, is thus destined to become the subject of the revolutionary change, i.e. the 'subject of history' (a formula coined by Lukacs). By abolishing its own alienation, it brings history to an end (or begins it afresh as a history of freedom), realizing the philosophical idea of human community in practice. Thus philosophy might be said to be realized in its annihilation, a conception which repeats a very old pattern of mystical thinking, where the end of time is presented as a return to the creative void of the origins.


- Etienne Balibar, The Philosophy of Marx

  • Like 1

Share this post

Link to post

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now