The Third International after Lenin

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Marcuse summed-up by a Marxist


....For Marcuse, critical theory was tied to objective reality to the extent that it had to reflect "real possibilities". Yet the definition of "real possibilities" becomes very arbitrary when it is divorced from any concept of how the possibilities can be made realities. Thus when Marcuse speaks of Reason, he means himself. Only Marcuse's commitment to (his interpretation of) classical Marxism serves as a check on his speculations.

The analysis of the supposed integration of the working class shows the scientific deficiencies of Marcuse's method. Uncritically he lists bourgeois sociologists' evidence on this theme, then glibly generalises to a sweeping conclusion.

Engels once pointed out that in the construction of his system, Hegel typically resorted to forced arguments, sometimes mere word-play. With Hegel, "not only a creative genius but a man of encyclopaedic erudition", these false arguments are only the outworks of a series of powerful insights. For German philosophers after Hegel, however, the system building sophistry often loomed larger than any real insight. Martin Heidegger, Marcuse's teacher in the 1920s, is an example: his writings are endless speculations on Being, in which references to the Greek or other ancient roots of words play the role of decisive arguments.

Marcuse imbibed that tradition, and often he is like the German philosophical socialists ridiculed by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto: "beneath the French [socialist] criticism of the economic functions of money, they wrote 'Alienation of Humanity', and beneath the French criticism of the bourgeois State, they wrote 'Dethronement of the Category of the General', and so forth... [they saw themselves as] representing, not true requirements, but the requirements of Truth; not the interests of the proletariat. but the interests of Human Nature, of Man in general, who belongs to no class, has no reality, who exists only in the misty realm of philosophical fantasy."

The student revolt was not a confirmation of Marcuse's views on ."the outcasts". Indeed, it was precisely because the students were not outcasts, because snug integration into bourgeois society was so much a reality for them, that some of them found Marcuse relevant.

But the conclusion, which a few students drew was that they should mimic being outcasts. Through them, Marcuse's ideas flowed into the worst forms of elitist and pseudo-populist politics.

Despite his ideas on 'repressive tolerance', it seems that Marcuse did not deny the important difference between bourgeois democracy and fascism: "By and large, Marxian theory has a positive evaluation of the role of bourgeois democracy in this transition -- up to the stage of the revolution would be fatal to abandon the defence of civil rights and liberties within the existing framework" (Essay on Liberation). Yet some radicals went on from Marcuse's vagueness to conclude that societies like the USA or West Germany were fascist, and also to adopt Stalinist forms of intolerance.

Marcuse did not regard any sort of wild lashing-out as valid revolutionary activity. He retained, for example, a classical Marxist attitude to individual terrorism. By critical theory, he did not mean irrational opposition to all existing reality. "What is to be abolished is not the reality principle; not everything, but such particular things as business, politics, exploitation, poverty" (Love Mystified). Yet some students concluded that action must be negative at all costs, disrupting the system and shocking the Establishment.

Marcuse believed that "the working class is still the historical agent of revolution". "The radical transformation of a social system still depends on the class which constitutes the human base of the process of production. In the advanced capitalist countries, this is the industrial working class". Believing that the working class had been neutered, he concluded: "a revolution is not on the agenda", and "the student movement is not a revolutionary force, perhaps not even an avant-garde".

Young people unwilling to accept Marcuse's programme of opposition without hope, however, concluded that the students and the outcasts were the new revolutionary class. Turning away from the working class, they were diverted into all sorts of wild projects.

After denouncing the lack of revolt against the system for thirty years, some of Marcuse's colleagues shied away from that revolt when it came. Jurgen Habermas, for example, denounced the revolutionary students as "left-wing fascists". Marcuse, on the contrary, sided clearly with the student rebels. That will always stand to his credit. But his ideas and his writings (with the possible exception of Eros and Civilisation) will not live on.


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