History and Class Consciousness*

Gajo Petrović

HISTORY and class consciousness are apparently two “phenomena” or “things” of an entirely different scope and significance, so that they should not be mutually “compared” or “measured”. History seems to be a necessary form of human life, the only possible space of social development, and class consciousness merely one “aspect” or “quality” of those transient social “groups” we call “classes”. The relationship between history and class consciousness appears thus as a relationship between a whole and one of its passing parts.

However, at least one important thinker, György Lukacs, insisted on the essential connection between history and class consciousness, and even between history and class consciousness of a special class, the proletariat. In his conception the class consciousness of the proletariat was regarded not merely as an aspect or insignificant part of history, but as an essential precondition for establishing a truly human society and true history. Defining in this way the relationship between history, society and class consciousness, he claimed no originality but insisted that he was giving an orthodox interpretation of Marx and Marxism.

Lukács’s book History and Class Consciousness is not limited to the discussion of the question indicated by its title. As we are interested here specifically in that question, and not in the book as

* Having received the invitation to the Oxford International Symposium with considerable delay, the author was not able to prepare a paper especially for the symposium. That is why this paper, already published in Serbo-Croatian in the Yugoslav edition of Praxis (No. 3-4/1974) has been translated into English and slightly revised. In addition to a number of inconveniences, this solution may have also two “conveniences”: (1) it may show what topics are sometimes discussed among Yugoslav Marxist philosophers in their own language and how they are discussed; and (2) it may stimulate further discussion of a topic which has already been discussed in English, although not so much in Oxford or among philosophers.


such, we shall leave aside all other questions in it, and we shall take into account some other writings by Lukács, and some writers other than Lukács.

If the question about the relationship between history and class consciousness is typically Lukácsean, it is by no means only his, or at all purely technical (philosophical, sociological, or historical). The relationship between class consciousness (and consciousness in general) and history has also been discussed outside the province of pure theory. Thus in recent years in Yugoslavia the idea of the role of class consciousness in history has been sharply criticized from two seemingly opposite viewpoints: according to one strong national attitude consciousness is a much more important condition and component of the meaningful shaping of history and according to the other history needs no “committed”, “ideological” consciousness, but only a “neutral”, and “objective”, one resulting from the development of science and technology. Now we are undergoing a phase in which the Lukácsean thesis about the key role of class consciousness in history is being revived and affirmed impetuously, though without Lukács’s thoughtfulness (and without his sincerity).

Regardless of whether we agree with Lukács’s view of history and class consciousness, in this question he is unavoidable. Thus we shall begin by a brief reminder of his ideas.


First of all, it should be noted that the conception of the relationship between history and class consciousness which was to be elaborated in History and Class Consciousness had already been sketched in Lukács’s earlier and smaller work Tactics and Ethics (in Hungarian, Budapest 1919).

Already in this work Lukács pointed out that the class struggle of the proletariat cannot be equated with the class struggle of other classes, that it is not a particular phenomenon, but has a broader significance, as “a means for liberating mankind, a means for the true beginning of human history.” 1

However, Lukács also stressed that this “means” is not an automatic mechanism bringing salvation to mankind regardless of the will and the activity of individuals. The realization of socialism is impossible without the historico-philosophical understanding of the meaning of historical process, and without the ethical decision of individuals to struggle for the realization of this possible historical


goal. And morally right action presupposes not only an abstract philosophy of history, but also a developed class consciousness.

Class consciousness, which is a precondition for morally right (socialist) action, is defined by Lukács by the help of class interest, as a consciousness which, expressing the class interest, rises above its mere givenness. Class interest as a correlate of class consciousness thus conceived is described as a world-historical calling, something different both (1) from the sum total of the personal interests of individuals belonging to the class, and also (2) from momentary interests of the class as a collective unity. 2

In opposing those who demand that in socialism the leading role in society should be conferred upon the so-called “intellectual workers”, Lukács maintains that in order to solve the question about the possibility of meaningful and directive inclusion of human consciousness into the social development one should start from “some important statements which—themselves no further provable and also in no need of proof—form the basis of existence and knowability of society—just as much as do the fundamental principles of geometry in the science of space.” 3

These statements of axiomatic character according to Lukács are:

1. “The development of society is determined exclusively by forces which exist inside society (according to the Marxist view the class struggle and transformation of the relations of production).”

2. “The development of society has an univocally determinable, although still insufficiently known, direction.”

3. “This direction should be brought into a determinate, though still insufficiently known, connection with human purposes; this connection is knowable and can be made conscious, and the process of making it conscious has a positive influence upon the development itself.”

4. “This connection, of which we have already spoken, is possible because the motive powers of the society are, to be sure, independent of every individual human consciousness, from its will and purpose, but their existence can be thought only in the form of human consciousness, human will and human purpose.” 4

If we consider these four axioms which are, it is true, given only as “examples”, the question of their consistency naturally arises. The first two maintain that the development of society—which is determined by the class struggle and transformation of the relations


of production—has its universally determinable, although still insufficiently known, direction, which, accordingly has to be independent of knowledge. In the third thesis we are told that by making this process conscious we can influence the development itself, and in the fourth that the motive powers of society can exist merely in the form of human consciousness. The latter, in contrast to the initial mechanistically materialistic statements already sounds entirely “idealistic”. But let us leave aside these “details” and have a look at what Lukács derives from his axioms.

According to Lukács, from the four axioms an unambiguous Marxist reply to the question about spiritual leadership follows: “‘Spiritual leadership’ cannot be anything but making conscious the development of the society, a clear knowledge of the essential in contrast to disguised and falsified formulas, hence the knowledge that the ‘lawlikeness’ of the development of society, its full independence of human consciousness, its similarity to the play of blind forces of nature, is mere appearance which can exist only so long as the blind forces of nature are not awakened by knowledge to consciousness.” 5

Spiritual leadership of society can, accordingly, consist only in making its development conscious; however this does not, mean discovering necessary social laws, but coming to see that social laws independent of human consciousness are merely appearance. This view may easily give rise to some doubts: First of all, if spiritual leadership consists merely in making social development conscious, this may suggest that social development is independent of consciousness; but if “making conscious” consists in discovering that laws of social development are not independent of consciousness, it should follow that “making conscious” can not mean knowing something independent of knowledge.

The “awakening by knowledge to consciousness” may also provoke confusion, because knowledge is sometimes regarded as a specific form of consciousness. In order to guard against a possible misunderstanding, Lukács in a footnote explains that, in the traditions of German classical philosophy, he on the contrary understands consciousness as a form of knowledge, “that special stage of knowledge, in which subject and the known object are in their substance homogeneous, where, consequently, knowledge develops from inside, not from outside.” 6 And he adds: “The main importance of this method of knowledge consists in the fact that the mere fact of knowledge provokes an essential change in the known objective: That tendency which already existed earlier in it becomes—provoked by making it


conscious—due to knowledge more firm and powerful than it was earlier and than it without knowledge could be.7

This description of consciousness and knowledge shows once more the basic weakness of Lukács’s view, his oscillation between a contemplative and passivistic theory of knowledge and Marx’s thinking of praxis and revolution. On the one hand, Lukács stresses the active role of consciousness and knowledge, maintaining that already “the mere fact of knowledge provokes an essential change in the known objective”. On the other hand, when making more precise the character of this essential change, he seems inclined to reduce it to the fact that due to knowledge a tendency “which already existed earlier” becomes “more firm and powerful”.

It seems that from this viewpoint one would not be allowed to speak of a revolutionary or subversive role of consciousness, but merely of auxiliary, or accelerant. However Lukács is concerned with the world-overthrowing role of Marxism: “The world-overthrowing power of Marxism stems from the fact that Marx discovered the class struggle as the motive power of the development of society and the laws of the class struggle as laws of social development in general. In this way he brought to consciousness the real motive power of world history, the class struggle, which until then operated blindly, without consciousness. The class consciousness of the proletariat developed by Marx’s teaching shows for the first time in the history of mankind that true motive factors of history do not operate as component parts of a machine without consciousness (or on the basis of imagined motives, which comes to the same thing), but have awakened to consciousness that they are the true motive powers of history. The spirit, and even the meaning of the social development of mankind came—in the class consciousness created by Marxism—out of the state of unconsciousness. In this way the laws of social development ceased to be blind, catastrophic and fatal forces: they awaken to self-reflection, to consciousness.” 8

According to this, the class struggle was even before Marx the motive power of history, but Marx made this motive power conscious. However, it is not quite clear what emerged through this “making conscious” and what was the relation of this “class consciousness of the proletariat developed by Marx’s teaching” and the consciousness of the proletariat not yet developed by Marx’s teaching.

An answer to this question is given by an attempt to clarify the concept of class consciousness : “But the class consciousness of the proletariat in itself is merely a step to this consciousness. Because class consciousness in its mere givenness establishes only the relation-


ship of immediate interests of the proletariat toward the laws of social development. Final goals of development for the class consciousness of the proletariat are merely abstract ideals in a—new—Utopian remoteness. For the true becoming conscious of oneself (Sich-Bewusstwerden) of society one further step is necessary: becoming conscious of the class consciousness of the proletariat (das Bewusstwerden des Klassenbewusstseins des Proletariats). This necessary step means transcending direct class consciousness and immediate oppositions of class interests and coming to know that world-historical process which through class interests and the class struggles leads to the goal: classless society, emancipation from every economic dependence. However, mere class consciousness (exclusive recognition of immediate economic interests, which is expressed in the so-called social-democratic Realpolitik) can help this knowledge only by giving a measure for the rightness of immediate steps.” 9

However, there are historical situations, such as moments of world crisis in which steps guided by immediate interests, like mere pattering in the night, are not sufficient. “In these moments there is necessary what I called the making conscious of the class consciousness of the proletarians: the consciousness of the world-historical calling (Berufung) of the class struggle of the proletariat. This consciousness enabled Marx to create a new philosophy revolutionizing the world and building it anew. This consciousness makes Lenin the leader of the revolution of the proletariat. This consciousness solely ... is called to become the spiritual leader of society.” 10

In this way, only class consciousness can take the spiritual lead in society; it makes possible the undertakings of such individuals as are Marx and Lenin, be it the theoretical undertaking of creating a “new philosophy”, or the “practical” undertaking of leading a revolution. But this class consciousness is not the class consciousness of the proletarians in its factual givenness, but the class consciousness of the proletariat which has become conscious, the consciousness of the world-historical process and of the world-historical calling of the class struggle of the proletariat. The class consciousness which has become conscious is thus a presupposition for Marx’s and Lenin’s achievements, and Marx’s work is in its turn the presupposition for making conscious the class consciousness of the proletariat—a circle which is perhaps not so vicious as it at first might seem.

However, what is the relation between the individual proletarian and the class consciousness of the proletariat? In one of the papers in the collection Ethics and Tactics Lukács writes about that: “Every proletarian is in accordance with his class membership an


orthodox Marxist. What the theoreticians can arrive at only by the hard work of thinking, is always already given to the proletarian in accordance with his belonging to the proletariat—under the condition that he reflects on his true class membership and on all consequences which follow from it.” 11

In other words, every proletarian is potentially a Marxist, but the transformation of this potentiality into actuality presupposes reflection about one’s class membership and about the consequences which stem from it. In his early articles Lukács thus outlined the theory of history and class consciousness which he was to elaborate in his main work. Although there are a lot of unclarities and things left unsaid, nearly all important elements of the conception which was to be elaborated in History and Class Consciousness are already contained here.

No doubt, History and Class Consciousness contributed a number of smaller precisions to this conception, and also two rather important: (1) the thesis that only the proletariat as a class can transform the whole of society because it is likewise a totality and (2) the thesis about the party as the guardian of the class consciousness of the proletariat.

The first thesis can be partly illustrated by the following quotation: “The totality of the object can only be posited if the positing subject is itself a totality; hence in order to think itself, the subject must think of the object as a totality. In modern society only and exclusively classes represent this viewpoint of totality as subject.” 12

The second thesis is expressed, for example, in the following passage: “However, in the dialectical unity of theory and praxis, which was found and made conscious by Marx in the emancipatory struggle of the proletariat, there can be no pure consciousness, either as a “pure” theory or as a mere demand, a mere “ought”, a mere norm of action. The demand, too, has here its reality. That is to say, the stand of the historical process which gives the character of demand to the class consciousness of the proletariat, a “latent and theoretical” character, must be shaped as *a corresponding reality and as such intervene actively in the totality of the process. This form of the proletarian class consciousness is the party.” 13

The above outline of Lukacs's view on history and class consciousness is certainly very incomplete. However, for our purpose it may be quite sufficient, because our goal is not an evaluation of Lukacs, but a discussion of a question which, although first sharply raised by him, has been treated by many others since.



Discussion of the theses outlined above has been very extended; thus it cannot be summarized here. Instead, we shall consider only two critiques of Lukács’s theses, made from two opposite viewpoints in two recent essays by two contemporary Marxists, the Polish philosopher Adam Schaff, and the English sociologist Thomas Bottomore.

In his paper “The Consciousness of a Class and Class Consciousness” Adam Schaff reminds us that the term “class consciousness” is ambiguous, because it means, first, “the consciousness (characteristic) of a class”, i.e. “that consciousness which a given class actually has under given conditions”, and second “the consciousness of class interests”, i.e. “the realization of what those interests are, and the resulting guidelines for a given class’s activities under given conditions”. Class consciousness in the second meaning manifests itself in two forms: (a) “as a theory, which consists of the total knowledge of a given class’s position within a specified social structure (which always presupposes a more or less explicitly formulated theory of social structure and social development”) and (b) “as an ideology, which consists of the totality of human convictions and attitudes (in the sense of readiness to act), combined with an active behaviour intended to put into effect a specified goal for social development, accepted within a given system of values.” 14

The two basic meanings, according to Schaff, are entirely different, and history knows many cases of discrepancy, chasm, and even direct opposition between the two. Such gaps arise when a class does not realize its actual interests and acts in disagreement with, or in opposition to, them. This occurs most frequently with nascent classes, which have not yet attained the consciousness of their interests, but it can also happen with developed classes, if the ruling classes succeed in preventing the members of the ruled class from widely developing their social consciousness.

According to Schaff Lukács saw the difference between the two meanings of “class consciousness”, but using the term in two different meanings he came to paradoxical statements like the one that class consciousness meant the class-determined unconsciousness of one’s social situation.

In order to avoid such paradoxes Schaff suggests that the two meanings of “class consciousness” mentioned should be used as two different terms, and in such a way that the term “class consciousness” should be preserved as the term for class consciousness in the


psychological sense, and the “class ideology” for class consciousness in the second sense. According to this proposal “class ideology” would stand for class interests (as the founders of a given ideology see them), whereas “class consciousness” would stand for those opinions and beliefs which the members of a given class actually share.” 15

To make this distinction, according to Schaff, is not to require that the two phenomena should be completely separated. On the contrary, when we have drawn the distinction we can clearly express the task, that the class consciousness should be raised to the level of class ideology, i.e. that the “well-shaped theory and ideology of the labour movement in the form of Marxism” should be brought “to the consciousness of the masses”. 16 The experiences of revolutionary movement, according to Schaff, “make us sensitive to the importance of watching what the actual consciousness of the working class is and to the importance of shaping that consciousness in the spirit of revolutionary ideology.” 17

From this point of view it is the basic deficiency of Lukács’s conception that he does not conceive the possible class consciousness of the proletariat as a class ideology which should be brought to the factual consciousness of the proletariat from outside (by ideologists).

The objection raised against Lukács by Thomas Bottomore is directly opposite. According to his view it is the basic difficulty in Lukács that he conceives Marxism as a theory of class ideologies which at the same time is itself a class ideology. And it is a basic shortcoming of Lukács that his conception is neither theoretical nor empirical, but ideological, that he is concerned with “how Marxism should be conceived in order to be an effective instrument of the revolutionary proletariat.” 18 Lukács’s distinction between the empirical, factual consciousness of the working class and its possible consciousness which it factually does not possess, according to Bottomore, leads of necessity to the idea of Party and its ideologists as the embodiment of the true class consciousness: “In practice, the meeting place of the working class, with its undeveloped consciousness, and the intellectuals, is the party; but the meeting is one-sided, for the party embodies above all a correct theory of the world, and it is therefore dominated by the ideologists.” 19

According to Bottomore this view diverges widely from Marx’s idea of class consciousness : “Marx states quite plainly that the working class will, through its own efforts and experiences, attain a fully developed consciousness of its class situation and aims. Indeed


he considered that this process had already advanced some way, in the form of the various socialist movements, before he undertook his own studies .20

After having given two quotations from Marx (one from the Poverty of Philosophy, and another from the introductory note to the Enquęte Ouvriére of 1880), Bottomore comments: “According to Marx, then, the working class was able to become a class for itself and to assume responsibility for its destiny. What part would be played in the process by intellectuals, by political parties and movements Marx did not examine, but it seems clear that these would in any case be subordinate to the general development of the working class. At the other extreme, Lukács subordinates the working class to the “rational consciousness” expounded by party ideologists, and thus provides an intellectual justification for the unrestrained dictatorship of the party, which has characterized all the Soviet-type societies since 1917.” 21


Which of the two is right: Schaff reproaching Lukács for not having fully grasped the need for introducing class ideology into the class consciousness, or Bottomore criticizing Lukács for subordinating the working class to the party ideologists and to the dictatorship of the party?

I am afraid that neither of them is quite right, although they may be wrong in rather different ways. Bottomore may underestimate the role of intellectuals, but he is right when criticizing the subordination of the working class to the party ideologists. However he is unjust in regarding Lukács as a univocal advocate of such a subordination. Lukács it is true, speaks of the party as a guardian of the class consciousness of the proletariat and such formulations are full of danger. But for Lukács the criteria of class consciousness are not the views of party bodies or party ideologists, but the class interests of the proletariat.

In contradistinction to Bottomore Schaff is wrong both in his interpretation of Lukács and (what is more important) in the way in which he wants to correct him. Like Bottomore he is inclined to reduce Lukács to one part of his thinking, but contrary to Bottomore, who energetically opposes every tendency to interpret Marxism as an ideology, Schaff tries to correct Lukács by elaborating Marxism as a theory of ideological indoctrination. Schaff’s interpretation of Marxism as a “well-shaped theory and ideology” is rather far from


the essence of Marx’s thinking of praxis and freedom, his insistence on the importance of shaping the consciousness of the working class “in the spirit of revolutionary ideology” is not only a terminological departure from Marx (for Marx, ideology being the false consciousness, “revolutionary ideology” is a contradiction in terms) but also a programme of social change in which there is not much room for unshaped, free and creative activity of social groups and individuals.

Despite all its weaknesses Lukács’s authentic views are superior to views of critics such as Schaff. However, do not even Lukács’s authentic views contain certain difficulties?

I think that the greatest difficulties and deficiencies of Lukács’s position are due to the fact that he failed to think over more carefully his key concept, the concept of “history”, and that he rather uncritically operated both with the concept of “history” and its derivatives “pre-history” and the “true history”.

According to Lukács the class consciousness of the proletariat is the decisive condition and means for the revolutionary transition from the pre-history of mankind to its true history. This fundamental thesis remains a mere phrase, if we are not able to clarify what is meant by “history”, “pre-history” and “true history”. However, in his History and Class Consciousness Lukács systematically discusses class consciousness, reification, totality, orthodox Marxism etc., but he makes only occasional remarks on the essence of history. These remarks can be interesting and stimulating, but they are far from exhausting the basic question. Thus we learn that history is no longer “an enigmatic process to which man and things are subjected and which ought to be explained by the intervention of transcendent powers or made meaningful by reference to values which are transcendent in relation to history. History, on the contrary, is, on the one hand the product—unconscious until now, of course—of the activity of human beings themselves, and on the other hand, a succession of those processes in which the forms of that activity, these relations of man to himself (to nature and to other people) are reversed.” 22 In other words “history is exactly the history of the unceasing overthrow (Umwälzung) of the forms of objectivity, which shape the existence of man.” 23

However instructive these and similar remarks may be, they do not solve the problem of history, nor in particular the relation between the non-authentic pre-history and true history.

In my view, it is inadequate to define history simply as a continuous series of transformations in the relations of man to himself, to nature and to other people. The essence of history is the free creative


activity through which man creates his world and himself. We can agree with Lukács that history cannot be explained or made meaningful by the operation of some transcendent powers. However no outside transcendent powers are needed here, not because there is no transcending in history, but because man himself is a transcendence. As a natural being developing within the limits of nature man is of necessity subordinated to general natural laws. However, insofar as he remains exclusively determined by the operation of natural laws, he is merely an alienated man, an animal endowed with intellect. Man’s essence lies in the transcendence of the mere naturalness, so that a man is really man, and human society really human, in the measure in which man develops as a free creative being of praxis, and human society as free community of free persons. In other words: “Exactly the transcending of the natural, the overcoming of the opposition between blind necessity and blind chance by free conscious activity makes up the essence of the historical.24

This essence of the historical has been only insufficiently realized in previous history. Marx and Engels have shown that previous history has happened basically according to laws which were independent from human will. This is not to say that history up to now developed without the conscious will and efforts of people. However by their efforts people have achieved results which were sometimes even contrary to those intended. This does not mean that until now human beings were merely the blind toys of impersonal forces. History up to now was only pre-history, but even pre-history, as a self-alienated form of human history, is immensely different from purely natural process, and in its brightest moments—in the moments of spiritual and social revolutions—it testifies to the possibility of the true human history.

Some—naive or vulgar—Marxists have been highly enthusiastic about Marx’s discovery of the laws of historical process, believing that by this discovery history has been brought to the level of a natural process, and thus gained in value. In this belief they have been partly right, only that the bringing of previous history to the level of natural process was not an exaltation of that history, but a criticism of it as self-alienated history.

Marx and Engels, and in their footsteps Lukács, have seen that the transition from pre-history to true history cannot be an automatic, evolutionary, continuous process, that such a transition is possible only by a revolutionary transformation of inhuman social relations, by establishing an essentially different society and man.

Marx, Engels and Lukács, have also seen that a revolutionary


transformation of man and society is not possible as a reorganization or reform carried out by a small number of individuals, wise rulers and their even wiser advisors, not even as a broader activity of propaganda, enlightenment and reconstruction, carried out by ruling groups, but only as a revolutionary deed, as the praxis of a “class with radical chains, a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society, an estate which is the dissolution of all estates, a sphere which has a universal character by its universal suffering and claims no particular right because no particular wrong but wrong generally is perpetrated against it; which can invoke no historical but only its human title, which does not stand in any one-sided opposition to the consequences but in all-round opposition to the presuppositions of the German political system; a sphere, finally, which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other spheres of society, which, in a word, is the complete loss of man, and hence can win itself only through the complete re-winning of man. This dissolution of society as a particular estate is the proletariat.” 25

Following Marx and Engels Lukács believed that the proletariat cannot fulfil its historical role, if it does not become a class in itself, if it does not develop its class consciousness, the consciousness of its class interests and of possibilities of realizing them.

Kautsky and Lenin, and after them many others, have seen the difficulties in the assumption that the proletariat can spontaneously develop its class consciousness. As a way out of this difficulty they developed the theory according to which class consciousness like a kind of industrial product is manufactured by scientists, people who stand on the level of contemporary science, and who introduce class consciousness ready-made into the working class.

In contrast to the theory of conveying class consciousness to the working class from the outside, some have advocated the view that such a conveying is not only impossible, but also unnecessary, because the working class can and even lawfully must develop the consciousness of its class interests on the basis of its objective conditions of life. Such an idea of spontaneity was rightly criticized by Lukács as a theoretical failure and as a basis of political opportunism. Leaving aside the question about the ways of the development of class consciousness, Lukács however formulates the thesis about the party as a carrier and guardian of the class consciousness. In his later foreword (of 1967) Lukács interpreted his theory about the attributed class consciousness as an imperfect form of Lenin’s theory of introducing class consciousness from the outside. 26 Is not this self-criticism to


be understood as an indirect warning that his conception should not be identified with the too simple theory of Lenin?

The theory of bringing class consciousness to the working class from the outside and the one according to which the very conditions of its existence force upon the proletariat the right class consciousness are seemingly contrary. In fact they are basically identical, because both assume that consciousness is something ready made which can be enforced (by ideologists or by “objective conditions”). In opposition to such a view I think that only false consciousness can be forced from the outside. True consciousness can only be fought out by one’s own thinking.

The factual raising of the working class to the level of its possible consciousness is not realizable apart from individual consciousnesses of individual proletarians; and individual proletarians cannot become conscious apart from their own activity. In addition to that the becoming class conscious of the proletarians (in the sense of Marx and Lukács) is the becoming conscious of the members of the working class not merely as members of the working class but also as potential founders of a free community of free human persons. Marx proclaimed as his ideal the realization of a society in which the free development of every individual would be the condition for the free development of all. However such a society cannot be realized by the harmonious operation of an army (even a proletarian army) commanded by a wise leadership (or forced to act by the objective conditions). It can be achieved only by the conscious struggle of freely associated fighters who constitute themselves as a community of free human personalities and who in the common struggle for the same basic goals and against the same enemies develop to the full their personal creative potentialities. Not even the most disciplined army of slaves, servants, or officials, regardless of how well it may be organized and led, can realize something which is contrary to its nature—a free human community.

What, then, is the relation between history and class consciousness? The class consciousness of the proletariat is indeed a necessary precondition of true human history, however under the condition that it is not the consciousness of the proletarians fighting to preserve their positions, but the consciousness of the necessity to negate the proletariat as a class and to realize a classless community of free personalities. The class consciousness of the proletariat in this sense is the consciousness of the possibility and ways of achieving universal human emancipation.

Is it identical with what I previously 27 called “the thinking of


revolution”? The question is not that easy. At this place I may merely indicate: The existence of the proletariat with its at least partly developed consciousness is a precondition for the thinking of revolution, the thinking of revolution is a precondition for the full development of class consciousness.

The development of the class consciousness of the proletariat is not an automatic consequence of social development or of the proletariat’s special position in that development. Its criterion is not the belonging to this or that stratum or class, and certainly not the membership card of an organization. Its possibility is laid down in the essence of man, its reality can be brought about only by one’s own act, its criterion is the revolutionary deed itself.

Gajo Petrović


1 Georg Lukács, Schriften zur Ideologie und Politik. Werkauswahl, Band 2, Ausgewählt und eingeleitet von Peter Ludz, Luchterhand, Neuwied und Berlin 1967, p. 5.

2 Op. Cit., p. 9.

3 Op. cit., p. 14.

4 Op. cit., p. 15.

5 Op. cit., p. 15.

6 Op. cit., p. 15.

7 Op. Cit., pp. 15-16.

8 Op. cit., pp. 17-18.

9 Op. cit., p. 18.

10 Op. cit., p. 19.

11 Op. cit., p. 38.

12 Georg Lukács, Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein, Studien über marxistische Dialektik, Sammlung Luchterhand 11, Luchterhand, Neuwied und Berlin 1970, p. 96.

13 Op. cit., pp. 113-114.

14 Adam Schaff, “The Consciousness of a Class and Class Consciousness”, The Philosophical Forum, Vol. III, No. 3-4/1972, p. 342.

15 Op. cit., p. 348.

16 Op. cit., p. 352.

17 Op. cit., p. 357.

18 T. B. Bottomore, Sociology as Social Criticism, George Allen & Unwin, London 1975, p. 97 (in the paper “Class Structure and Social Consciousness”, reprinted from István Mészáros (ed.), Aspects of History and Class Consciousness, London, 1971).

19 Op. cit., p. 102.

20 Op. cit., p. 103.

21 Op. cit., p. 103.


22 G. Lukács, Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein, Luchterhand 1970, p. 321.

23 Op. cit., p. 321.

24 G. Petrović, Philosophie und Revolution, Rowohlt, Reinbek 1971, p. 61.

25 K. Marx and F. Engels, Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy, edited by Lewis S. Feuer, Anchor Books, Doubleday, Garden City, New York, 1959, pp. 264-265.

26 See G. Lukács, Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein, Luchterhand 1970, p. 18.

27 For example in the book Philosophie und Revolution, Rowohlt, 1971.


SOURCE: Petrović, Gajo. “History and Class Consciousness,” in Contemporary Aspects of Philosophy, edited by Gilbert Ryle (Stocksfield, UK; Boston: Oriel Press, 1977), pp. 239-254. From Oxford International Symposium, Christ Church College, 29 September - 4 October 1975.

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Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

Marx and Marxism Web Guide


Humanism and Revolution
by Gajo Petrović

praxis @ Reason & Society

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