Unlocking Lakatos

Alex Bandy has published Chocolate and Chess. Unlocking Lakatos (Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 2010). We note that the subtitle is a Hungarian pun; lakatos means "locksmith." We present below an indication of the contents of the book by quoting extracts from the Publiaher and two reviews.

  1. From the Publisher.

    Chocolate and Chess is a Holocaust story with a twist that shocked even Elie Wiesel, a Cold War story, with spy vs. spy intrigue, an intellectual story and, alas, also very much a human story. It reads like a thriller, but it is the true tale of Imre Lakatos, the brilliant philosopher of the London School of Economics, who was a mystery to colleagues, friends and lovers - and to Britain's MI5. Surviving the Holocaust, he wanted to start anew and devoted his energies to building the Hungarian Communist Party. Surviving torture and incarceration by his comrades, he left for England for another fresh start. But the secret services of countries on both sides of the Cold War divide remained interested in him and England denied him citizenship despite the backing of esteemed colleagues like Karl Popper. Based on previously classified Western counterintelligence and Hungarian secret police archives, this book endeavors to fill gaps in the knowledge of both cognoscenti and counterspies.

  2. Review by: John Kadvany.
    Philosophy of Social Sciences 42 (2) (2012), 276-286.

    Chocolate and Chess (Unlocking Lakatos) tells the fascinating story of Imre Lakatos' life in Hungary before his flight to England following the failed 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The book focuses on Lakatos' role as a political functionary under Hungarian Stalinism, and compiles what is known of Lakatos' role in the induced suicide of a young woman, Éva Iszák, at the end of World War II. This historical and biographical study provides essential background for appreciating Lakatos' cross-cultural role as a philosopher in England and Hungary, through the Anglo-American philosophy and the Hegelian-Marxist traditions in which he was trained and did not leave behind.

    "Chocolate" in this book's title refers to an ideological Soviet novel popular among Stalin-era communists, its message being self-sacrifice for The Cause. Imre Lakatos (1922-1974), the influential Hungarian émigré philosopher of science and mathematics, may have been incidentally motivated by the book to recommend the suicide of a young woman, Éva Iszák. Lakatos knew Iszák in 1944 when he led an underground communist cell of Jews hiding in northern Romania following the March 1944 German invasion of Hungary. The grotesque story of her forced suicide has been known outside of Hungary following the publication of a 1989 memoir by Iszák's sister, the late Mária Zimán. That's another 15 years beyond Lakatos's death in 1974 at age 51, by then a world-famous philosophy professor at the London School of Economics. Lakatos had there followed his mentor Karl Popper, only to end up Popper's fierce critic, the son who turned against the father. Along with contemporaries Paul Feyerabend and Thomas Kuhn, these four philosophers, for all their conflicts, were prime movers in philosophy of science debates during the 1960s and 70s who permanently revised our image of scientific theory and practice (Lakatos and Musgrave 1970).

    Chocolate and Chess is the most detailed account to date of Lakatos's nefarious Hungarian life until his escape to England following the failed 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The book is brilliantly written, dense with detail, and of total fascination for students of Stalinism in general and the years leading to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution in particular. The Iszák tragedy is the worst of Lakatos's past, and no new facts suggest that Iszák's suicide was the result of anything but Lakatos' insane proposal, made to Iszák and cell members, that her suicide would be an effective means of diverting attention from their group, itself having difficulties concealing Iszák. Accompanied to the Debrecen woods by a young Lakatos disciple, Iszák took a cyanide drink and died there, her body discovered by a child some days later.

  3. Review by: Ladislaus Löb.
    East European Jewish Affairs 40 (3) (2010), 312-314.

    Imre Lakatos was one of the most brilliant philosophers of mathematics and science in the second half of the twentieth century. Born in Hungary, he came to England after the 1956 revolution. In 1961, at the age of 39, he obtained a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Cambridge. From 1960 he taught at the London School of Economics (LSE) alongside Karl Popper, Joseph Agassi and John Watkins and was promoted to Professor of Logic in 1969. In 1974, aged 59, he died of a sudden brain haemorrhage. His work on the theory of knowledge and scientific method, notably in Proofs Gild Refutations, is still held in very high regard by his peers. His original ideas, delivered with an unmistakable Hungarian accent, made him an extremely popular lecturer. What none of his friends, colleagues or students in the West knew was that before taking refuge in the UK Lakatos had led a very different kind of life in Hungary. Only the authorities seem to have had some suspicions, as they twice turned down his application for British citizenship. In fact even in Hungary today his biography is full of gaps and mysteries. Many of the relevant documents have been destroyed and the memories of the individuals who knew him contradict each other. His own inclination towards secrecy and deception did not make matters clearer. Even his surname was not the same throughout his life.
    ...

    The worst fault of the book is the author's habit of indiscriminate quoting. Relentlessly, page after page, quotation follows quotation with hardly a link between them. The book is a mass of recollections, judgments and opinions about Lakatos, but Bandy provides very little analysis, narrative or evaluation of the comments he strings together without regard to their relative importance.

    What does emerge from the book is a profoundly depressing image of the evolution of communism in Hungary after the Second World War - behind the sonorous slogans a jumble of lies, corruption, coercion, betrayal, intrigues, infighting, witch hunts, show trials and the brutal struggle for power, often ending in the execution of both winners and losers, in a defeated country devastated further by the sinister spread of the Soviet system.


JOC/EFR November 2019