Who Are You Calling Vulgar? Lukács, Kautsky, and the Beginnings of “Western Marxism”

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This essay reads Georg Lukács’s early thought in light of his vexed relationship to the Social Democratic theorist Karl Kautsky. Though Lukács criticized Kautsky as the archetypal “vulgar Marxist,” Lukács’s larger project of promoting “class consciousness” follows from Kautsky’s own political and pedagogical work. For Kautsky, Social Democratic intellectuals had to transmute proletarian “class instinct” into class consciousness by disseminating a simplified version of scientific socialism, transmitting the conclusions but not the method of Marxist thought. But because Lukács had defined “vulgar Marxism” as the forgetting of Marx’s method in favor of his conclusions, “vulgar Marxism” turned out to be both the precondition and an obstacle to proletarian class consciousness and thus to revolutionary action. The essay then reads Lukács’s changing understanding of the role of the party as a response to this impasse: a response that can help us understand the heterogeneous tradition of “Western Marxism.”.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)467-483
Number of pages17
JournalRethinking Marxism
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Georg Lukács
  • Karl Kautsky
  • Vulgar Marxism
  • Western Marxism
  • Worker Education


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