Issue 2, 2018: Marx from the Margins

Lukács Archives

János Weiss

The Lukács Archive in Budapest was founded after the death of György Lukács (June 1971) in the former home of the philosopher. The apartment was, and still is, owned by the Municipality of Budapest, the inheritor of the Lukács estate. First, let’s take a look at the archive and its history before considering the present threat.

The archive’s library contains the books owned by Lukács. The approximately eight-thousand-piece library is a uniquely rich collection of German, English, and French philosophical and aesthetic works, and a collection of world literature from the 18-20th centuries. The value of this collection stems from the fact that these books contain Lukács’ annotations, cards, and remarks. Further, Lukács’ published books and review-publications in various languages, as well as works about his oeuvre, his historical and philosophical environment, are also available in the archive. In addition, the archive contains a huge number of unpublished manuscripts. Particularly worthy of note are the contents of a suitcase which has been kept in a safe of the Bank of Heidelberg. This suitcase contains Lukács’ manuscripts from before 1917, including the original of his German-language “Heidelberger Ästhetik” (1912-1914). Furthermore, the archives house Lukács’ almost complete pre-1917 correspondence with Leo Popper, Paul Ernst, Ernst Bloch, Emil Lask, and Max Weber; and, most importantly, his post-1945 correspondence with Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Heinrich Böll, Erich Fromm, Max Horkheimer, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Jürgen Habermas.

The archive experienced a golden age from the mid-80s to mid-90s: during this time it was working with eight to ten researchers, librarians, and archivists; it maintained close contact with the direct students of Lukács and the members of the Budapest School, who still lived in partial exile. At this time, the archive took over the editing from the Hungarian publisher Magvető and worked closely with the editors of the German publishers Luchterhand. Then the Aus dem Nachlaß series was slowly set in motion, in which significant books and documents appeared, such as the 1910-11 diaries, the pre-work of Die Zerstörung der Vernunft, notes for a planned book on Dostoevsky, a large study written after the Soviet entry into Czechoslovakia in 1968 titled, “Demokratisierung heute und morgen”, and notes and sketches for a work ethics from the later period of his life. Without these publications, we would have much less knowledge about Lukács; today however, these books have been fully integrated into Lukács’ research.

The working conditions of the archive began to deteriorate in the mid-90s, and this has intensified markedly since 2010. In 2012, research institutes of the Hungarian Academy of Science (Magyar Tudományos Akadémia or MTA) were reorganized, whereby the archive lost its infrastructure. Since then there has only been one librarian working at the Lukács archives. It became impossible to maintain the standards of work carried out previously so that scientific research, contacts with foreign partners, and research consultations requiring scientific backgrounds, ceased to exist.

We might think that the worsening fate of the archive is a consequence of the philosophical reception of Lukács’ works: the strong anti-Marxist mood in the years before the regime change of 1989, and even more so afterwards, undoubtedly colored the view of Lukács’ philosophy. We also know that Lukács himself was very critical of his youthful work (which secured his world-wide fame). Lukács’ late works, especially those published after his death, received such a significantly negative reception (more people were talking about “nationalization”), that sentiments about his late works were also transferred to his early ones. But this was shown to be an entirely incorrect view once Lukács’ closest students began to explore the early thoughts of the “master”. The Archive closely followed this tradition and did a lot to keep the books of Lukács’ early career as well as his later works available. If the reception of Lukács’ would be handled by a professional framework, we would probably be able to continue this kind of research, but Lukács reception has been subjected to intense politicization since the mid-nineties.

Perhaps it is worth commencing with the fact that many of the leading figures of the democratic opposition, who prepared for the change of regime in 1989, belonged to Lukács’ second-generation students, called the “Lukács Kindergarten”. They created the most affirmative western-oriented democratic party in Hungary, Free Democrats Alliance (Szabad Demokraták Szövetsége or SZDSZ).  Dissatisfaction with the change of regime and its attitude towards philosophy began to emerge in the second half of the 90s. At first, an incumbent prime minister said in the second half of the 1990s, in a residential forum: “There are too many philosophers in Hungary”. Many people objected to this statement and its possible implications (such as writer Péter Nádas). Nevertheless, Lukacs became the “ancient philosopher” under attack by this regime, and the Archive was the headquarters of this “ancient philosophy”.

The Fidesz government, which came into power in 2010, not only took up this tradition but also brutalized the attack on the Lukács Archive as well as the person of György Lukács. It is well-known that this party’s goal is a complete cultural-political rearrangement of Hungary, where such re-organizations have both right-wing and left-wing traditions. However, the true goal of Fidesz’ ideology is a nationalistic course. Therefore, government departments and media sometimes engage in a fierce attack against Lukács and his students: such as the “philosophical scandal” of 2011 (cf. Bohannon 2011; Hockenos 2013), which in fact meant the persecution of, and threats to, philosophers. But its symbolic peak was reached in the spring of 2017 when the statue of Lukács was removed from the Szent István Park in Budapest (despite widespread protests).

It may well be that the fate of the Archive will be the extension of the fate of the sculpture; the advocates of closure refer to technical arguments above all: archival materials need to be digitized (and this requires them to be transported, while their return is not guaranteed), and the expense of maintaining its former home. The struggle is still ongoing, but it is possible that the political intentions and justifications of these arguments will lead to Hungary losing one of its most significant philosophical and scientific institutions and monuments. The moment I am finalising this very entry (May 24th, 2018) I receive the bad news that all locks of the Lukács Archive have been replaced by the Hungarian Academic Library so that the Archive’s former employees can no longer enter the building. I am afraid that this is the end of the famous archive.


Bohannon, John. 2011. “Hungarian Academicians Blast Government Over Inquiry Into Research Funds.” Science, February 4, 2011.

Hockenos, Paul. 2013. “A Scholar Is Back Home and Defiant in Hungary.” The New York Times, December 8, 2013.


János Weiss

János Weiss was born in 1957 in Szűr (South Hungary). He studied economics at the University of Pécs and then philosophy at the Universitiy of Budapest, Frankfurt, Tübingen and Berlin. His most important teachers were: Jürgen Habermas, Manfred Frank and Albrecht Wellmer. He has many publications in connection with german idealism and romance, as well as Frankfurt School.