Lukács on Futurology

The following excerpts are taken from a long conversation between Lukács, his step-son Ferenc Jánossy, together with his step-son’s wife Mária Holló-Jánnosy, and Jutta Matzner at a Hungarian holiday resort in Hungary in September 1969. In this conversation Lukács developed his ideas on futurology at some length. First published in German in Number 4, 1970 of “Futurum.”

Lukács: There is no human practice which is not concerned with regulating the future out of the experience of the present. If as an outsider I observe futurology, I have the curious feeling that in futurology an attempt is being made to make a science out of something which has been part of human practice from the very first. The most primitive farmer who mates this cow with that bull, is conducting a futurological experiment: based on his previous experience he entertains the hope that a bull with such and such qualities will have better offspring than a bull with other qualities. The question here is to what extent experiences which are primary, experiences that cannot be excluded from any practice, may be called a science. Geometry was originally a sum of the experiences of man who built huts or similar things. From this a real science has gradually developed. The question, then, is: how far is it possible to raise intentional and organized preparation for the future to a scientific level. To a certain extent, this is no doubt possible, primarily where statistically recordable tendencies are present in society. There is, for instance, a quasi-scientific form of capitalist futurology: the insurance system. Is insurance—be it life insurance, the insurance of ships, the insurance of the harvest—anything but the attempt to register a statistical tendency, to formulate mathematical averages and thereby give people a warranty on the future? In this way, capitalism has a very extensive futurology in a purely economic domain.

Jánnosy: But this is only the futurology of extrapolation.

Lukács: Yes—this is the futurology of extrapolation, and is therefore only possible for pure relationships of wealth. There can of course, be no insurance for the emotions of a wife in the case of the death of the husband. The way in which the wife will react humanly to the death of her husband, is completely outside the concept of insurance. I have singled out the science of insurance, because mathematical calculations and extrapolations stand behind it. Our time is a period in which such extrapolations flourish because of advanced technology and the consequent mathematizarion of many fields. Here we have a need for a new critical examination: to what extent can such tendencies be extrapolated at all? It is precisely in our present society that it may be seen how little extrapolation is possible, and how large the chances are for something perfectly new to arise. I refer here to the example that,

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in the course of the nineteenth century, through the multiplication and the increasing technicization of the armies, competition arose among the latter, and each general staff tried to establish, through extrapolations, how strong, for example, British artillery would be in 1880. The equipment of German artillery was considerably determined by an extrapolation of how strong British artillery would be in ten or twenty years. Now the possibility of a nuclear war has put an end to this whole predictive structure.

This has given rise to completely new problems. The old extrapolations have lost their value. If one wishes to speak of a science of futurology, it is necessary to emphasize, from the very first, a futurology which is extraordinarily self-critical, because a mutation into something which is the very opposite is always possible, due precisely to our highly developed technology. I should say that a rather restricted form of scientific development of the future is possible here; and that in contrast to tendencies which rule today, much greater weight is to be given to the summation and discussion of human experience than to mere extrapolations. What many sciences proclaim, that is, that human experience is excluded from human practice, is untrue. I should say that even such rational and highly capitalist phenomena, for example the domination of the market by large-scale industry, are absolutely impossible without appealing to human experience. For it is unimaginable that it should be possible to predict, on the basis of mere extrapolation, which goods will have a higher turnover in future.

Jánossy: I would like to interject at this stage: if we set out from a critical futurology, one which wishes to change things, can we not also interpret the works of Marx in a double sense? I am not thinking here of a mathematical extrapolation, but of an extrapolation from the laws of capitalism. For example, in which direction do the laws of reproduction, of the average rate of profit, of competition lead? In another sense, I am thinking of critical futurology. It must indicate, even if only in broad outline, what should be changed in society for it not to dig its own grave. I am of the opinion that in Marx’s works both elements are included and interconnected. A critical futurology which provides the foundations for a conscious change can be constructed from the extrapolation of the laws of capitalism.

Lukács: I do not contest that human practice must always take the practice of predicting the future into account. This is entirely beyond debate. What is debatable is whether futurology is an independent, a new science. Marx recognized findings as science post festum only. For him the anatomy of man was a key to the anatomy of the ape. We can follow processes which have run their course, and post festum, we can recognize not only the facts of the processes, but also the laws which govern them. I am now putting a question which was also raised by Marx: to what extent can these laws be applied to the future? As far as I can judge in the case of Marx, he makes a very clear distinction between two things. Marx is always being reproached for having written approximately ten to twenty volumes about past and contemporary economics while all that he wrote of socialism would fill only ten pages of a book. In my view this is no coincidence. It is possible to conclude certain, but only quite general tendencies from the basic structure of capitalism and these make the overcoming of capitalism possible.

For example: the meaningfulness (Sinnhaftigkeit) of human labour is something which is opposed to capitalism, and is raised by Marx in all problems with reference to socialism. But you will never find a word in Marx’s works about what concrete actions we have to take in order to make work meaningful. Marx establishes only that a high productivity of work is necessary in order to reach such a turn. But there is nowhere the faintest hint of what is meant by this “high” productivity; how “high” need it be.

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In Marx we find nothing but a generalization about human experience, so that we shall be able to draw from the observed development post festum with very great caution and a very critical observation, conclusions for I the future—conclusions for quite certain tendencies, the economic foundations of which have been discovered. I shall take a Marxian example, the average rate of profit. Marx concluded from the history of the past, and of what was for him the present, that I an average rate of profit could only occur when capital can move from one domain to another. It is obvious that at the beginnings of capitalism this movement was impossible and that there was, therefore, no average rate of profit. If I now wish to draw conclusions for the future, I have to investigate whether the nature of the tendencies of capitalistic development is such that the movement of capital from one domain to another will become easier or more difficult? If this activity will be made more difficult, and the rigid adherence of working capital to a certain domain occurs, no average rate of profit can, of course, develop. Marx never said that the development of capitalism created the average rate of profit for eternity, but demonstrated only its economic conditions.

What is called futurology today is a necessary element of every science and human practice. But I do not think that these investigations, torn from various sciences, could be condensed into a uniform science. There exists no uniform futurology, in the sense that we may speak of uniform mathematics, geometry, physics or economics. In every social science there is a futurological element which corresponds to the laws of the development of that science. This futurological element is given a great emphasis today, because on the one hand, in the socialist countries, a planned economy naturally presupposes futurological moments. On the other—in this I would agree with Galbraith—the present capitalist economy must be understood and recognized as a forcing back of the domination of the market as it existed in the nineteenth century and hat a sort of planned economy by the manipulation of the market, has occurred. This means that futurological elements are increasingly present in economic practice. It makes a great difference whether I recognize and examine the participation of futurological elements in every science, or whether I select only certain elements and make an independent science out of them. It is clear that mathematics plays a great role, so to speak, in every science. Nevertheless there are purely mathematical laws, which are independent of whether I am applying mathematics to economics, physics or chemistry. The question now is whether there are such futurological theses—and can such futurological theses exist—which can be applied in the same way in economics and in astronomy, and out of which an independent science can develop? In my view, this question is a methodological premise, in arriving at futurology as a science.

Mária Holló-Jánnosy: The futurologists do not see themselves as members of an independent scientific discipline, but work with an interdisciplinary methodology.

But would it not be possible, just as with history, which also works with a variety of different methods, to speak of the science of the “history of the future”, without claiming, as some futurologists do, that futurology has its own methodology?

Lukács: There is nevertheless a great difference here. Every history—whichever we consider, be it astronomy or geology or another one—has a concrete foundation in existence (Seinsgrundlage). If I look at it from the Marxist aspect, history means the domination of the irreversibility of processes. All these theories of history of the nineteenth century, Dilthey’s and Rickert’s, for instance, which reduce history to human history, beget irrationality by contrasting “rational” nature mechanically with “irrational” human history. It is thus necessary to combine history with the consciousness of history. But I share Marx’s view that geology

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or Darwinism must also be considered as a science of history, although there is not a trace of consciousness in geology, for instance.

If I wish to synthetize the futurological elements of the most diverse sciences, 1 can in fact only take the entirely general concept—“there will be a future”—as the foundation. On which facts of existence (Seinstatsache)—which is the same in astronomy and in the history of literature—can futurology rely? For the time being we cannot discover such a general principle of existence (Seinsprinzip) of the future; only that—and this brings us back to history—the future will, as far as man can foresee, be just as irreversible in every domain as the past. Insofar as the future changes into the past, it will be shown that it is a continuation of the irreversibility of the process. I therefore stick to the viewpoint that there can be no single science which does not contain moments of futurology. I only doubt that, as we are able to separate mathematics or geometry or epistemology or logic into single disciplines, it should be possible to create such an independent science of futurology.

Jutta Matzner: This is a question of its object, that is the question that the domain of its object cannot be exactly defined.

Lukács: Yes, futurology is always tied to the concrete object and therefore to historicity, to the irreversibility of that domain with which we wish to deal. This domain can, of course, be the whole of society. I do not contest this. Let us, for instance, take astronomy: since a beginning was made, dealing with problems of astronomy or the foundation of nuclear science, we have seen that the heavenly bodies observed by us are in various forms of material composition. It is not at all excluded, of course, that irreversible processes take place in them, and that, if a certain material composition of a star has been established, futurological speculation may arise, i.e. in which direction will material change in this star proceed? This would be a futurological observation within astronomy. But I cannot see anything in common between the examination of the possible material development of a fixed star, and the possible development of the African peoples, for instance.

Jánossy: I believe that there is nevertheless a point—although very generally considered. If one observes the historic process after it has occurred, one can find in this irreversible process that, for instance, it has a character of fortifying itself; that the process becomes fortified, until it reaches a point where it changes into its opposite and begins to annihilate its own conditions. For capitalism, this is already a fact that may be seen. So one can examine the past from the standpoint of futurology in order to establish which processes may be extrapolated more or less, and for what time, since their laws have had a strong effect in the past. On the other hand, one can establish which processes change so fast (for instance, through coincidence) that they can be extrapolated only for quite short time-spans. The possibility of influencing processes, the possibility of extrapolation, is a general question. But with regard to the examples of astronomy and the African peoples it becomes clear to what extent the measure of the possibility of extrapolation depends on the object. I believe that the discovery of the measure of the possibility of extrapolation of different processes may perhaps be a practical general principle of futurology, a better one than just to say: these processes are irreversible. They are irreversible, but they have a different degree of constancy.

Mária Holló-Jánnosy: But there is another aspect left. There are processes in society, and in the economy, which can he recognized, can be foreseen, but can hardly ever be influenced; tendencies like the decline of heavy manual labour, or the diminution of the number of workers in agriculture; general tendencies which occur, indifferent to systems, with technical, social, economic development. Then there are the oft-mentioned side-effects of these general tendencies, most-

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ly negative ones: for instance, environmental pollution, noise and other negative phenomena accompanying urbanization, which cannot be stopped but can certainly be limited. Between these two extremes there are, in almost every domain of development, areas in which the future can certainly be influenced, in the domain of enlightenment, education and culture, for instance. It would be the task of futurology to discover the possible margin for such conscious changes. But for this it is necessary to discover first the objective tendencies—the progressive ones as well as the harmful, the retrograde and anti-human—which have been mentioned and can hardly be influenced, and the area of their validity must be established.

You used to say that you can conclude with Marx, in fact, only three general tendencies which are relevant for the human future, namely: the receding of the barriers of nature, the reduction of working time necessary for the reproduction of labour, and the integration of mankind. If these three tendencies are taken as the foundation, one can already draw certain conclusions from them; for instance, in the domain of educational planning, it is foreseeable that time spent working will diminish and leisure grow. This will also be done—in the favourable case!—in long-range planning. In this sense we are all thinking “futurologically”.

Lukács: What I am observing here with a certain scepticism, is merely futurology as a separate science. I must admit that I am very sceptical towards several new sciences. You will excuse me, Jutta, if I mention an old example: in the nineteenth century Comte and Taine produced a separation between economics and sociology, not only in opposition to Marx but in opposition to William Petty and Adam Smith—the old economists, who were, without exception, economists and sociologists at the same time. This is in my view a completely wrong direction. A sociology which is not founded in economics is twaddle. It is not true that an independent science of sociology exists, but sociology is an aspect of a correct universal economic investigation of reality. Can you now understand my scepticism? If I am sceptical towards sociology as an independent science, I entertain a certain fear that a special science of futurology may arise now; I wish to emphasize though that although I deny sociology as an independent science, I am very much for sociological investigation. These are not two contradictory statements, and I do not want to be misunderstood here: I shall not cease announcing my scepticism towards futurology as a science, but I am very much for futurological investigations.

Jutta Matzner: It is certainly problematic to speak of futurology as a science in the strict sense, because, as has been said, its object—the dimension of the future—is so difficult to grasp, and this is tied up with the methodological difficulties which you have described. It is hardly possible to speak of futurology as a monolithic discipline; for the research of the future is in itself far too differentiated and heterogeneous, above all in its political implications and declared goals. It is necessary to fight against those schools within futurology which pose as innocent science, and in fact wish to maintain the present political conditions (Herrschaftsverhältnisse) for the future. The moment of the alternative is then lacking, the moment of qualitative change through practice, of which Marx spoke.

Lukács: Here I completely agree with you. Please excuse me if I return to the past; we should not forget that when feudalism declined and following the Renaissance, the movement of Enlightenment arose, two types of discipline existed. One type was the successor to the scholastic philosophy of the Middle Ages and thought that the divine world, created by God, moved according to eternal laws of God’s will. On the other hand, the Enlightenment arose, which gradually discovered the independent and immanent worldly motives which change society; I take as an example the economics

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which came into existence at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It cannot be said in any other way; from the economics of William Petty on, a futurological observation of bourgeois society can be seen as developing. It would be ridiculous to contest that an infinite number of futurological elements were not contained in the works of Holbach, Helvetius, Diderot, Rousseau, Voltaire and others, who—through the analysis of a feudal society in decline and the rise of capitalism—tried to discover a certain series of stable moments which were important for the development of the future. We understand today that they found the truth of many things, and in many other things by-passed real development.

Jutta Matzner: These series of permanent moments are like accumulated experience; and without the gathering and evaluation of experience, futurology is, of course, impossible. But it is important whether the horizon of the research of the future includes only those experiences which can be evaluated for the sake of stabilizing the existing system; or whether those experiences which call into question the structures of society, particularly those structures which obstruct a democratic future, are also to be included. Critical futurology should do the latter.

Lukács: The second is obviously true. At the moment in human history when different formations fought each other, this duality always existed. This is why I have referred to the Enlightenment. Here this duality may be seen in an extraordinarily sharp form. There exists today, of course, an alternative between capitalism and socialism, and this we cannot evade. I believe that futurology does not only wish to know how the future will be, but must also know how we should act in order to bring about a desired future. Here again the problem passes from scientific method to political practice.

Mária Holló-Jánnosy: The Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach can perhaps be applied to critical futurology: what matters, is not to interpret the world but to change it.

But let me say another word about your scepticism towards futurology as a science; in fact, it is only bourgeois futurology which wants to be considered a science. Galtung formulated this especially clearly in Kyoto when he said: bourgeois futurology, which asserts, with regard to itself, that it is not ideological but scientific, because it uses the methods of the experimental sciences and of the natural sciences—exactly this “predictive” futurology with claims to objectivity free from ideology—is ideological, because it extrapolates the future on the basis of today’s value system. To this one has to oppose a “prescriptive” futurology, that is a futurology which wants to contribute to the formation of the future on the basis of the postulation of values. And by this, Galtung pleaded for a futurology which is not a science but active politics.

Lukács: It is necessary to clarify a question of terminology at this stage: the view that ideology is a sort of false or subjective science, is incorrect. Marx defined very exactly what ideology was. The economic development of society raises certain problems, and ideology exists in order to make these problems conscious and to fight them out. There is no opposition between ideology and science. Ideology can be scientific, and it can be non-scientific; science can in certain circumstances be ideological, or it can be non-ideological.

Mária Holló-Jánnosy: Galtung did not use the notion of ideology in a pejorative sense either. He rather meant that a prescriptive futurology was consciously ideological and evaluative.

Lukács: Let us not forget that the greatest ideological struggles in recent centuries were fought in the domain of science. The question whether Copernicus or Ptolemy were right, was for centuries an ideological question for which people were burnt or hanged or beheaded. It can never be foreseen when a science is going to develop out of an ideology. There were times when ideological struggles were not fought with scientific weapons. In

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the Middle Ages they took place in the religious and theological domain, while in the seventeenth century they were already carried out scientifically. This is even more valid today. For instance, from Gehlen to Spengler, the moment of an end of history always arises; this is nothing but an ideology, namely the wish to manipulate bourgeois circles in order to maintain current manipulation as the eternal form of human society.

Jutta Metzner: How would you define the relationship between utopia and futurology?

Lukács: Utopias occur in the most developed times of crisis, when an intellectual-moral construction is designed out of reality and projected into the future. The strongest side of a utopia is the critique of the conditions out of which it has been formulated; but the utopia cannot be realized in those social conditions. In genuine utopias—Marx recognized this clearly in his time—every moment is lacking which would let these utopias become reality out of a mere idea. Socialism is not a utopia, because according to Marx, socialism grows out of the real development of the forces of production—and is not an ideal form which is opposed to reality. Marx said, for instance, in his Critique of the Gotha Programme that socialist society would still contain a great number of elements of capitalism. Marx did not set out from the socialist condition but saw this as the result of a development which occurred with an irreversible causal necessity, and which offered, at a certain stage, the possibility of a socialist revolution.

There is also the Marxian method of post festum investigation, through which certain tendencies may be perceived; and this touches on what is called futurology today. But futurology must not be joined to the ideal of a scientific foresight freed from political practice. It is only through foresight that something can be influenced and changed. I claim that if one does not want to influence something, then one does not search for causes. It is certainly not a coincidence that Futurum has published a number on peace research. War and peace are decisive moments of social practice, This is obviously a valid place where the causes of conflicts must be discovered.

Jutta Metzner: Bloch described futurology in Neues Forum as a bourgeois surrogate for Marxism. Bourgeois futurology, which is overwhelmingly a strategy for the prevention of crises that may endanger bourgeois existence, should therefore be replaced by Marxism, which contains elements of foresight and of political practice.

Lukács: This is the old question of the superiority of Marxism. If Marxism is superior to bourgeois sociology and history in the analysis of contemporary society, and of the development which has led to contemporary society, then it will also be superior as futurology. These two things cannot be separated. It is really an old story that a mother who has known her child since birth will better foresee the development of her child than the child himself. I think that the difference between Marxism and bourgeois science can be described in this way. Bourgeois society does not really know its own society. It knows less about the laws of motion which have created this society and which will continue to create this society, than Marxism does; therefore, bourgeois science will be inferior to Marxism in all futurological questions.

Jánossy: Let us stick to this example of the child. Marxism correctly followed the development of the child, let us say, to its tenth year, but imagined that this child would always remain ten years old. it did not notice that the child had become a teenager in the meantime, and therefore did not understand the child any longer. Marxism must make up for this time, from ten to puberty—only then will it be superior to bourgeois science.

Lukács: In this I fully agree with you, since this is what I have been constantly demanding for twenty years. I find it quite ridiculous when somebody wants to explain

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American phenomena today directly from Lenin’s book on imperialism, which was written in 1914. In Stalin’s time we missed the opportunity to formulate an analysis of the new capitalism. As long as this analysis is lacking, we are not genuine Marxists. I should, therefore, correct myself: Bloch would be right in the case of a real Marxism, and he is not entirely right as far as today’s Marxism is concerned, although in many respects the old Marxism is also superior to bourgeois theories. Real forecasts will only be possible when we have elaborated the changes of capitalism in the last decades in a Marxist scientific way. Unfortunately this has not yet been done. There are single investigations here and there, but the theory of the new capitalism does not yet exist.


SOURCE: “Lukács on Futurology,” The New Hungarian Quarterly, no. 47 (vol. 13, Autumn 1972), pp. 101-147. Conversation with Lukács, Ferenc Jánossy, Mária Holló-Jánnosy, Jutta Matzner, September 1969.


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