Saturday, August 6, 2011

Marcuse, Fromm, Adorno: "negative dialectics" as revisionism


Notebook: the Frankfurt School


Notes and conspectus from:
The Philosophy of Revolt (Criticism of Left Radical Ideology)

...."Negative dialectics" [i.e Marcuse, Fromm, Adorno, the "Frankfurt School of critical theory"] when viewed as a theoretical principle can, in the sphere of political thought, only lead to escapism and nihilism, or, to anarchist revolt, when under the impact of some impulse moods of this type take the form of practical action. Yet revolt proves powerless when confronted by the dictatorship of the ruling class that relies on armed force and traditions of conservative thought (above all as personified by the bourgeois state). If activist moods are not “sublated” in conscious, organized and purposeful struggle, revolt will very quickly lose its driving power and exhausted and disappointed rebels will give in to the very same establishment which they had been attempting so recently to destroy.
....movement’s incapacity to overthrow not only political but also cultural institutions of advanced capitalist society and replace relations of domination and subordination with qualitatively new ones. And even if the protest movement did yield some results, this occurred above all wherever it ran counter to the “negative-dialectical” principle.
.... in the world of art, "negative dialectics" is much more at home than in the political sphere....Mallarme, Baudelaire, Breton, Brecht....[epitomize] the Great Refusal to accept the rules of the game played with marked cards.
....leaves the consumer alone with himself, with his rootless consciousness and without any confidence that the shock stemming from this consciousness will force him to reassess his earlier values. To tear the mask from the "unreal world" and show how repellent it actually is, is still not enough to make the world better than it is. use Goethe’s expression, he was unable to construct a bridge that would take him into the world of truth.


....In the midst of the crisis gripping the capitalist social system the ruling class in the advanced capitalist countries attempts to standardize society and weld it-together on the basis of values that would, in the eyes of the state-monopoly bourgeoisie, ensure the unshakeable stability of the existing order of things and rob the members of society of their individuality, turning them all into cogs within the giant social machine.
....Consumption ceases to be a condition of life, and becomes its very purpose.”
.... Political demagogy is used not only by bourgeois liberals but by blatantly reactionary forces as well.

....New ....nightmarish....“late-bourgeois” society....universal disintegration and collapse....of moral values....“manipulation” and “suppression”....
....individual....obedient and meek slave of the "industrial system”....
....modern bourgeois civilization ....dry dead tree, from which all the sap has been drained.
.... majority of the movement’s members are from well-to-do families....
.... predetermined [view of collapse and disintegration] by the class character of those sources from which the New Left gleaned its picture of existing society.

....looked upon this social disintegration as a function and consequence of socio-integrational processes....
...."ideological captivity", this uncritical borrowing of other writers’ ideas explained the pessimistic mood of the New Left and their ideologists, because anti-revolutionary optimism never provided a firm foundation for the shaping of revolutionary optimism.

....advanced industrial society....[defined as] ....fundamentally totalitarian.
....United variety of totalitarianism, based not on brute force and bayonets, but simply on "technological rationality"
....totalitarianism ....not ....specific society but rather a whole epoch.
....individual ....barely notices it.
....not ....capitalist system of social relations, but rather of the development of technology and " technological civilization"
{Marcuse] "Concentration camps, mass exterminations, world wars, and atom bombs are no ’relapse into barbarism’, but the unrepressed implementation of the achievements of modern science, technology, and domination."
....emotional description of some sort of abstract “hell”....
....not even the tiniest space in which any counter-mechanisms or counter-forces might take shape and function....bereft of historical dimensions, it is flat and linear, or to use Marcuse’s term, “one-dimensional”.
....uniformity that rules out any alternatives (social, political, theoretical, artistic, etc.)
....defeat or refute all protest in the name of historical prospects of freedom from toil and domination.
....both the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, in his opinion, are pursuing the same aims and share what are in the long run the same political ideals.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels....""The propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same human self-estrangement. But the former class feels at ease and strengthened in this self-estrangement, it recognizes estrangement as it’s own power and has in it the semblance of a human existence. The class of the proletariat feels annihilated in estrangement; it sees in it its own powerlessness and the reality of an inhuman existence. "
....contradiction between its human nature and its condition of life, which is the outright, resolute and comprehensive negation of that nature.
.... private property-owner is therefore the conservative [preserving] side, the proletarian, the destructive [annihilating] side....

....contradictions inherent in “one-dimensional” society have been driven into the background. They cannot come to the surface, for this is made impossible by the technically “rational” organisation of existing society, which facilitates the suppression of such contradictions.
.... logical development of the idea of reason commonly found in West European civilisation which gives rise to this situation.
....individual ....sees himself as “happy” in this "rational hell”.

[working class ceases to be indignation personified]

[Marcuse]....overestimates the degree of unification within American society (which he takes as his model of "modern society" as such)....
....extends trends observed in the United States to cover modern capitalist society as a whole, ignoring specific conditions and trends of social development in the various parts of the capitalist world.
....bases his criticism of modern capitalist society on theories and ideological constructions propounded so as to facilitate vindication of capitalist society.
....bracketing together of capitalism and socialism as varieties of "industrial society"....
....strictly cultural phenomenon, or scanty ethical abstraction, rather than as a multidimensional developing organism in which each social phenomenon must be treated as a factor in the historical process....
....a "single industrial society" and “ convergence” ....
....superficially anti-capitalist approach....utopian theories easy for the state-monopoly capitalist system to “digest” and assimilate.

....each new stage in social evolution creates new conditions for material and cultural integration of society....economic levers prove insufficient for the control of the social organism. It becomes necessary to control the masses through direct moulding of their consciousness, through the creation of a national market for standardised cultural commodities as an integrating social force designed to unite all members of society within the framework of capitalist production. The technological revolution simplifies the solution of this problem, although of course it is not the direct cause of its appearance.

[Marcuse].... cause of all social evils, which are embodied in “one-dimensionality”, in the rational organisation of production, in the creation of an integrated well-oiled system of production, managerial and cultural institutions whose activities are based on modern technology.
....overlook the ambivalent, intrinsically contradictory nature of capitalist integration as such, the qualitative differences between the various functions of technology, and the differences between the ultimate aims of the integration processes at work within different social systems.
....facilitating still greater exploitation of the working people, the intensification of labor and the psychological manipulation of the masses, these processes at the same time objectively promote the creation of the material preconditions for socialism, which in its turn completes the historical work begun by capitalism.
....does not do away with those objective factors which determine the position of the proletariat in capitalist society as a revolutionary class.

....Marcuse and other radical ideologists to modern technology there are unmistakable elements of the outlook of the modern bureaucratic elite which fetishises the role of technology in the life of society and defines its functions outside the social bonds from which the system of machines cannot be extricated.
.... fetishism, which closely reflects technocracy’s outlook, permeates, however, not only the minds of the technocrats out to support the existing system, but also the romantic, anti-technocratic outlook that claims to embody the modern humanitarian vision of the world.
....fetishist consciousness unjustifiably turns science and technology ( interpreted, incidentally, in a positivist spirit) into a universal and absolute criterion for all social processes.....

....Marx .... approached technology within the system of concrete social relations. The latter change as technology develops, but in the overall context of social reality the will of a class and its action, are conditioned in the final analysis by the nature of production relations, and in their turn always determine the social role of technology in society. "comes to life", as it were, thus becoming capable of performing contradictory functions. Yet the ambivalent and contradictory nature of the functions of technology reflects the contradictoriness of society itself.
....The complexity of modern technology makes it appear functionally independent in relation to society, and still more so in relation to its individual members.

....industrial America....where calculation and profit permeate even the most intimate corners of life....

.....“one-dimensionality”, seen as the lack of a critical dimension in the contemporary socio-political and cultural institutions of "advanced society" and the minds of the citizens of that society, and as the monotonous similarity in the views, tastes and habits of individuals, Marcuse is expressing first and foremost his own pessimistic mood which provides a far from accurate reflection of the true picture presented by social relations.
....pessimism very often has reference to concepts such as "one– dimensionality" or the standardization of society....
[Russian Populists, Ortega-y-Gasset, Erich Fromm, Aldous Huxley]

[Marcuse finds it difficult to presume] ....that in conditions like these the social contradictions inherent in advanced capitalist society might come to the surface.

[n.b. O, Marcuse that you were living in 2011, where the social contradictions of capitalism intertwine everything. JR]

....pessimism only provides initial stimulus for ideas destined to overcome pessimism. revolutionary action, in so far as it is directed towards the future can find a firm foundation in pessimism.
....pessimism acts as a break on activity directed at changing the existing state of affairs, foreshadowing the inevitable defeat of those who have decided to embark on something. The pessimist is anti– revolutionary, not revolutionary, when it comes to real revolution as opposed to outbursts of despair.
....he does not know the forces capable of preparing for and achieving victory in the struggle for fundamental social change.
....much of the abstract moralist in the ideologists of the radical Left.
....Fear goads the pessimist into action, makes him protest, rebel and reject the existing state of affairs thus placing him half way between despair and hope....

.....Erich Fromm concludes.....Marcuse is essentially an example of an alienated intellectual, who presents his personal despair as a theory of radicalism.
....lack of understanding and, to some extent, knowledge of Freud builds a bridge over which he travels to synthesize Freudianism, bourgeois materialism, and sophisticated Hegelianism into what to him and other like-minded ‘radicals’ seems to be the most progressive theoretical construct."

Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man..."....the Great Refusal: "The economic and technical capabilities of the established societies are sufficiently vast to allow for adjustment and concessions to the underdog, and their armed forces sufficiently trained and equipped to take care of emergency situations. However, the specter is there again, inside and outside the frontiers of the advanced societies. The facile historical parallel with the barbarians threatening the empire of civilization prejudges the issue.... The critical theory of society possesses no concepts which could bridge the gap between the present and its future; holding no promise and showing no success, it remains negative. Thus it wants to remain loyal to those who, without hope, have given and give their life to the Great Refusal"
....Great Refusal—a manifestation of despair-in-fear....
....their attitude to positivism as the ideological basis of political conformism....
....Positivism as a modus vivendi and an embodiment of “one-dimensional” thought should, according to the ideologists of the radical Left, be abandoned and countered with dialectics....

modus vivendi---
1.A manner of living; a way of life.
2.A temporary agreement between contending parties pending a final settlement.

....according to Marcuse, Adorno and their supporters dialectics is only “critical” and “ revolutionary” in so far as it is “negative”. The advanced capitalist world of the present day sullied by positivist empiricism, political reformism and social apologia, in the eyes of the ideologists of the radical Left kills "negative thought", the embodiment of a dangerous alternative.
....assuming that both Hegel’s dialectic and that of Marx, despite the differences between them, were permeated with a negative spirit.

[Marcuse's Reason & Revolution dedicated to] ....revival, not of Hegel, but of a mental faculty which is in danger of being obliterated: the power of negative thinking.”

....nucleus of Hegel’s dialectic, its “soul” is to be found not in negation but in contradiction....
....transformation of negation into a means of development (highly characteristic of philosophical skepticism and political nihilism) is tantamount to a rejection of dialectics and a transition to a standpoint of insipid sophistry, a transition from reason to ratiocination....
....negation itself (or to use political terminology—violence)....
....negation is not yet capable of bringing about sublation as the positive result of negation, or, to take its socio-political aspect, the realization of the alternative.

[Sublation, a translation of the German term aufheben]
Ritual purification, the purification or exaltation of matter by its negation or redirection]
....Hegel wrote: "....that which is sublated is at the same time preserved and has only lost its immediacy but it is by no means destroyed as a result."

....In dialectics the negative is at the same time the positive, in so far as it contains within itself the negatable as a moment, precisely that, to use Hegel’s words, "from which it originates and without which it does not exist". The positive aspect of negation is therefore not only functional (negation as a stimulus for historical 78 development), but also substantial (structural). A new structure is a moment of development only in so far as it includes within itself transformed (sublated) elements of the old structure.

....Absolute negativeness, characteristic of Marcuse’s writing, which leads him into the realm of abstraction and skepticism....ratiocinative thinking and positivist sophistry.
....radical critic thinks in terms of antinomies [contradiction or opposition, especially between two laws or rules] : positive-negative, affirmation-negation.

....In affirming that all that is real is reasonable, Hegel the dialectician was not implying that it did not deserve criticism, negation, sublation, that it was completely justified in respect of the given moment of history.
.... “reasonable” the embodiment of the contradictoriness of reason, a moment of development: reality is subject to negation and sublation, but at the same time it “retains” itself (in sublated form) in new reality.
....“reasonable” nature of reality consists therefore in the fact that it is not subject to absolute negation.

Marx’s dialectical conception of the negative character of reality.. .. Every single fact and condition was drawn into this process so that its significance could be grasped only when seen in this totality to which it belonged. For Marx, as for Hegel, ’the truth’ lies only in the whole, the ’negative totality’.”

....Marcuse accuses Marxist dialectics....of underestimating forces of integration and restraint at work during the late stage of capitalism....
....negating the revolutionary role of the working class ....
...."force of negation... is today no longer concentrated in any one class”.

....for the Marxist....transition to a new quality is bound up with progressing beyond the limits of the old quality. Very different are the questions as to whether the working class is an inner force as far as the capitalist system is concerned, and whether in fact outer forces, not linked with inner ones, can provide the material vehicle of dialectical negation.
....exploited class creating surplus value is of necessity linked with the capitalist system and in relation to ’that system constitutes an inner force. Yet at the same time the proletariat, as "a class for itself" aware of the need for fundamental change and for a new social status for itself, also constitutes an outer force in relation to that society....
....proletariat embodying in its development the contradiction inherent in the capitalist system constitutes both an inner and an outer force in relation to that system. Yet precisely this enables that class to come forward as the material vehicle of negation....implementation of which naturally requires the existence of the necessary concrete historical prerequisites.

Marcuse....focusing his attention....forces which are not directly linked with the existence of the capitalist mode of production.

....negativeness must contain within itself a positive factor as an alternative to the existing society.
....revolutionary movement looking towards the future at the same time is always rooted in the present, constituting a bridge between the present and the future. Thus singling out an alternative involves not sketching out as yet blurred details of a future, but specifying the contours of a projection into future of tendencies found in contemporary social development, a projection subject to constant modification.

....clear concrete structure of revolutionary forces can only crystallize in the course of actual social development, however, the nucleus of those forces takes shape in the present, and without the definition of these revolutionary forces at each particular stage any "real alternative" remains a childish dream.

....positivism renders impossible any critical distance from social reality: the absolutisation of what is given immediately, of the factual, the available implies a blindly positive approach to bourgeois society, the establishment of the power of that which already exists.
[i.e. bowing down before the accomplished fact. JR].

....socio-critical theory, based on "negative dialectics", analyses advanced capitalist society through the prism of its “one-dimensionality”, calls for total negation of that society and ignores the contradictions inherent in the objects of its analysis, does not mean, however, that it overlooks the problem of contradictions altogether....
....socio-critical interpretation of contradiction, which comes to the fore particularly clearly in the philosophical, sociological and musicological works of Theodor Adorno.

....Adorno ....much in common with Marcuse’s work and this entitles both the radical Left and also their critics to rank the names of these two philosophers together.
....Adorno is really more “left” and more “radical” than Marcuse and still further divorced from the real world....
.... starting out from Hegel and contesting the latter’s ideas so as eventually to reject Hegel’s view of negation as an element in the transition to a new synthesis.
....sees Hegel’s hierarchy of ideas to be nothing but a copy of the socio– political hierarchy, an ideal reconstruction of society based on the principle of domination and subordination.
.... "the whole is untrue”....
...."late-bourgeois society", where overall cohesion of the elements making up the state machine is obtained at the cost of the disintegration of traditional institutions and ties.
....defined form of concepts should be taken apart and presented in the internal division of its opposites, but in division that is not sublated when synthesised but which is retained in the capacity of the permanent, non-transient state of an object.
...logic of identity ....
....replaced by "the logic of disintegration", for only the latter is capable of adequately reproducing a picture of the social world, in which the whole becomes completely intangible for the subject, in so far as it is packaged into thousands of “pieces”....
....but a short step to the construction of Utopias, that is arbitrary, illusory systems.
....lead him astray into a world of grotesque fantasy or Utopian illusions.
....historically circumscribed states of bourgeois society, the “appearances” which confront the individual.

....However much an object might be subject to inner contradictions it represents a system which at each given moment is identical with itself and in this sense is integral.

....according to Adorno, while it is impossible to view a contradiction as soluble....
....also wrong to envisage any definite alternative, or even to hope, for hoping is tantamount to deviating from or impeding any alternative.

....The true struggle for the future begins when it becomes simply impossible to live in the present world and when the bare bright light of hope might only serve to cool man’s ardour and resolution to take up the struggle.
.....Adorno....absolutises and perpetuates contradiction, and hence negation as well: contradiction is expressed in permanent, absolute negation, but is not solved or sublated in the latter. Hence Adorno’s logical conclusion: "the whole is untrue".
....Zoltai aptly comments: "Adorno only recognizes thesis and anti-thesis. For him affirmation and negation are poles with no connecting links which can only come into contact with each other when exaggerated to an extreme degree. This philosophical construction would have no truck with synthesis, with negation of negation.”
....Adorno rejects Hegel’s synthesis since he does not accept Hegel’s system.
....regards the modern a contradictory chaotic chain of elements not arranged in any integral system. ....Adorno is guilty of a similar if not greater degree of absolutism: while Hegel absolutises the whole, the system, Adorno does the same to fragmentation, chaos, forgetting that even madness (madness of a world in which everything can be bought or sold) has, as observed earlier, its own system.
....Adorno’s dialectics present not so much the actual state of the existing world as the state of “split” consciousness of the philosopher himself, serving to reproduce the visible chaos of the world before him beyond whose confines he can find no means of escape apart from morbid introspection.
....Adorno comes forward as both nihilist and apocalyptic. Yet apocalyptical revolt is a revolt that knows no moderation, no limits, which sweeps aside everything in its path, and is of course very far removed from social revolution.
....Mao’s ideas centers round his teaching with regard to contradictions based on the absolutisation of struggle between opposites and the relativisation of their unity.
[Mao's concept of the "right to rebel"]: ....“creative” inspiration for rebels wallowing in anarchy.
.... The vulgar interpretation of Marx’s views provides the substance of "negative dialectics" and the set of slogans and principles which made its appearance in certain parts of the Third World under the heading "philosophy of negation”.

....connecting links between the poles of affirmation and negation as forms that express continuity in human history and in the development of culture....
....Lenin pointed out that the struggle of opposites is absolute "as development and motion are absolute".
....Movement is impossible without rest, of necessity it incorporates moments of rest. Yet movement is absolute in the sense of constant, uninterrupted change of rest itself, the succession of different forms of rest and the negation of one form by another. The same applies to the unity and struggle of opposites. The struggle of opposites is absolute in the sense of constant negation of various forms of their unity, absolute in the sense of the constant nature of development, but by no means in the sense of the negation of the necessity of the moment of rest in movement and the moment of interconnection between opposites.
....constant interconnection, interaction and interpenetration between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat....each distinct form of this interconnection is partial, temporary, unstable reflecting the relative nature of the unity of opposites in general and the opposition of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in particular.
....struggle of opposites can assume various forms.
....forces of affirmation and negation can over a certain time prove equal, which of course does not lead to a termination of the struggle of opposites, as Marcuse supposes, but merely lends their development a specific character. This “equilibrium” can be observed at certain stages of the revolutionary process, when the bourgeoisie exhausted by the class struggle already proves unable to hold on to power, while the proletariat is not yet able to seize it.



.... "negative dialectics" fulfills a twofold function: it is a method of criticizing existing society and a method of critical action directed against the establishment.
[negative dialectics is]....a means of self-expression for the radical as a “ situation-individual” extrapolating that situation to all social reality and elevating the emotional mood bound up with that situation to the rank not only of a categorical moral imperative but also to an almost universal law of social being.
....not entitled (if they wish to be consistent) to put forward any concrete alternative. They substitute for the latter, either “hope” or inner “predisposition” to the future, its vague expectation (as in Adorno’s case). The rebel is therefore a tragic figure, in so far as he condemns himself to a blind struggle....
....rebel often suffers defeat, since he is not aware of true historical necessity.
....reflects the destiny of its creators and adherents as typical representatives of that section of the bourgeois intelligentsia characteristic of periods constituting a turning-point in the development of capitalist society.
....a son of the impulsive, yearning twenties filled to overflowing with disillusionment and hopes....
....revolutions in Hungary and Germany, suppressed when still in embryo had no opportunity to develop their potential, and the Mephistophelean dialectical ’spirit of negation’ was again obliged to return to the realm of consciousness, to the ’ elevated’ heights of culture and art, back to where it had originally sprung from....

....Adorno, Marcuse, Fromm....despite all their preoccupation with “criticism” were insufficiently critical to extend their activities beyond the sphere of purely intellectual pursuits.
....theoretical position proves to be no more than a means of self-expression for its creator....historical destiny of such a philosophical position is bound to share, as so often happens, [its creator's] unfortunate fate. use Goethe’s expression, he was unable to construct a bridge that would take him into the world of truth.



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