Lenin Rediscovered is an important and powerful contribution to our understanding of Lenin’s Marxism. However, it is also flawed by an attempt to push too far the claim that Lenin was a consistent ‘Erfurtian’ or Second-International Marxist. The dynamics of a mass political party and social movement are very different from even the most representative theoretician. The reality of German Social Democracy was certainly more problematic than what Lenin was able to glean from the very best of Kautsky’s writings. This became apparent to Lenin in 1914, when he recognised that he had been building a very different kind of party from the actual SPD. It may be possible that the SPD and the RSDLP (Bolsheviks) were both ‘parties of a new type,’ but it is also clear that they were not parties of the same type. There was much that Lenin had in common with Kautsky and Bebel ‐ but he was doing something that was, in important ways, quite different.
From 1919 to 1929, the great Hungarian Marxist philosopher Georg Lukács was one of the leaders of the Hungarian Communist Party, immersed not simply in theorising but also in significant practical-political work. Along with labour leader Jenö Landler, he led a faction opposing an ultra-left sectarian orientation represented by Béla Kun (at that time also associated with Comintern chairman Zinoviev, later aligning himself with Stalin).
If seen in connection with this factional struggle, key works of Lukács in this period – History and Class Consciousness (1923), Lenin: A Study in the Unity of His Thought (1924), Tailism and the Dialectic (1926) and ‘The Blum Theses’ (1929) – can be seen as forming a consistent, coherent, sophisticated variant of Leninism. Influential readings of these works interpret them as being ultra-leftist or proto-Stalinist (or, in the case of ‘The Blum Theses’, an anticipation of the Popular Front perspectives adopted by the Communist International in 1935). Such readings distort the reality. Lukács’s orientation and outlook of 1923–9 are, rather, more consistent with the orientation advanced by Lenin and Trotsky in the Third and Fourth Congresses of the Communist International.
After his decisive political defeat, Lukács concluded that it was necessary to renounce his distinctive political orientation, and completely abandon the terrain of practical revolutionary politics, if he hoped to remain inside the Communist movement. This he did, adapting to Stalinism and shifting his efforts to literary criticism and philosophy. But the theorisations connected to his revolutionary politics of the 1920s continue to have relevance for revolutionary activists of the twenty-first century.