The Recuperation of Marcuse

Who is Marcuse? What is he? that all opposition adores him?

He tells us in One Dimensional Man that the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are still the basic classes in the capitalist world. But the former antagonists are now united in their interest to preserve and improve contemporary society. The proletariat has abdicated its historic role. Class struggle has come to an end in class society. Not only is the proletariat absorbed into bourgeois consciousness, but both classes, now practically one, no longer appear to be agents of historical transformation. The word appear as used by the doctor is curious: we are to assume the analysis of advanced industrial society to be based upon an appearance?

But havng disposed of the proletariat, he waxes sad, toward the end of the book, about even the most acute consciousness which is powerless when deprived of the material force for the transformation of life. Since revolutionary consciousness is impossible without a revolutionary class, we take the acute consciousness to be something other than revolutionary (bourgeois no doubt).

When he says that "the dialectical concept pronounces its own hopelessness," he crowns his mystifications. He has set from the start the condition for his own hopelessness, which is then transferred into the hopelessness of the dialectical conception, and, more largely, the hopelessness of the historical project of liberation. After that when he makes statements that tend to clarify the real relationships in 'advanced capitalist society,' the statements clarify not the necessity to supersede that society, but to reinforce the general hopelessness, and as such the statements become reasons for adjusting to the prevailing reality.

Deprived of a class to end class society, a 'demonstrable agent for historical change,' Marcuse seeks the realization (the emergence of the potential) of bourgeois society not through a supression of its conditions, but by an intensification of hte prevailing process. It is not that the system should be other -- but that it should be more what it already is. In this he joins Max Weber, who saw bureaucracy emerge to rationalize (Marcuse's word is: pacify) existence.

He delineates his alternative to bourgeois irrationality in One Dimensional Man:

Paradoxically, it seems that it is not the notion of the new societal institutions which presents the greatest difficulty in the attempt to answer this question. The established societies themselves are changing, or have already changed the basic institutions in the direction of increased planning. Since the development and utilization of all available resources for the universal satisfaction of vital needs is the prerequisite of pacification, it is incompatible with the prevalence of particular interests which stand in the way of attaining this goal. Qualitative change is conditional upon planning for the whole against these interests, and a free and rational society can emerge only on this basis.

The institutions within which pacification can be envisage thus defy the traditional classification into authoritarian and democratic, centralized and liberal administration. Today the opposition to central planning in the name of a liberal democracy which is denied in reality serves as an ideological prop for repressive interests. The goal of authentic self-determination by the individuals depends on effective social control over the production and distribution of the necessities (in terms of the achieved level of culture, material and intellectual).

Here, technological rationality, stripped of its exploitative features, is the sole standard and guide in planning and developing the available resources for all. Self-determination in the production and distribution of vital goods and services would be wasteful. The job is a techincal one, and as a truly technical job, it makes for the reduction of physical and mental toil. In this realm, centralized control is rational if it establishes the preconditions the preconditions for meaningful self-determination. The latter can then become effective in its own realm -- in the decisions which involve the production and distribution of the economic surplus, and in the individual existence.

In any case, the combination of centralized authority and direct democracy is subject to infinite variations. . .

The individuals whose "authentic self-determination depends on effective social control" are the same individuals "whose particular interests are incompatible with qualitative change." It is the bourgeois order rationalized (pacified), by a centrally controlling technological rationality (why not like Max Weber use the word bureaucracy here?), leaving the individuals to toy "effectively" at the fringes with their individual lives and economic surplus. . .

Here then is a program for a social democracy, complete with planners at the top -- technocrats or bureaucrats -- who are good enough to allow the individual to decide over the secondary: his individual life as surplus.

He warns (elsewhere in his book) about technological fetishism -- and then proceeds to advocate it in what he wants somebody to believe is the "chance of the alternatives." If he knows, he does not understand that every advance in technological knowledge is an advance in technological knowledge is an advance int he spectacularization of existence, in slavery: not because knowledge is slavery, but because the ruling strata -- bourgeois or bureaucratic, and bureasucratic after bourgeois -- can only use knowledge to that end. The liberatory potential of capitalism -- removing men from the realm of their total submission to nature -- turns into its opposite.

The technocrats are closer than he seems to think. "Every hour of every day the Sectretary is confronted by a conflict between the national interest and the parochial interest of perticular industries, individual services and local areas. He cannot avoid controversy in the whole range of issues which dominate the headlines if he is to place the interests of the many above the interests of the few, and yet it is the national interest, above all, which he has sworn to serve" (The Essence of Security, R.S. McNamara). (McNamara's own statement expresses a contradiction. The 'national interest' is the interest of the ruling class (the few, the parochial interest); but he identifies it here with the interests of the many, as best suits the ideology of a bureaucratically controlled state. This contradiction is the condition of existence of the bureaucracy: it is the foundation of its dilemma, in which it discovers all of its moral, idealistic or whatever, crises. While it carries on the struggle, with state power, for the pacification -- rationalization -- of existence.)

Beneath the cloak of a doctor of speculation hides a social democrat (one who desires to introduce such institutional modifications as will allow capitalism to sustain itself).

Earlier -- in Eros and Civilization -- Marcuse had pointed to the assumption in the Freudian theory of the immutability of the struggle against want. The practical possibility of eliminating want obviated the Freudian apparatus as reflected upon an ontological essence of man, and reintroduced it as a moment of thought connected to a moment of histroy. In the light of this discovery, the critical impact of Freudian theory bore heavily upon the repressive nature of bourgeois society. It was this which founded his attack on the revisionists of Freudian theory, in their need to demolish the critical content of the theory, for the benefit of the bourgeois order.

But Marcuse himself was on thin ice. In speaking of perversions, he noted that they "seem to be linked with the general perversion of the human existence in a repressive culture, but the perversions have an instinctual substance distinct from these forms; and this substance may well express itself in other forms compatible with normality in high civilization." The conditional hedging is more than the caution of a careful doctor of speculation: it suggests that Freud, after all, may have indeed uncovered something about the ontological essence of man.

It is questionable whether "timelessness is the ideal of pleasure," but he, affirming without the shade of seeming, employs the notion to reintroduce a "primary frustration" so that repression reenters to make "pleasure itself painful."

And he affirms that the elimination of alienated labor is impossible (forgetting for the nonce that alienated labor in bourgeois society reflects the 'struggle against want') so that he then recaptures the content of Freudian theory as ontological speculation. For the problem, really, is to minimize, attenuate, the more noxious traces of bourgeois domination -- for a more rational, more pacified organization of survival, until death itself "like other necessities, can be made more rational -- painless." So there it is.

On the level of the every day he is less circumlocuted:

I have never suggested or advocated or supported destroying the established universities and building new anti-institutions instead. I have always said that no matter how radical the demands of the students, and no matter how justified, they should be pressed within the existing universities and attained within the existing universities.

The university is the last bastion of freedom. It is not possible to do without an elite. The working-class needed for the social revolution he has in mind is the working-class needed to set up a new ruling strata. We can understand his desire for selective repressions -- for he is not thinking of a revolution. He is thinking of the implementation of a social democratic program of reform within capitalism, and he is thinking of the retrograde opposition to that reform.

At the first skirmish in the streets he rediscovered intact his social democratic past, complete with "non-explosive evolution" and "progressive forms of repression."

The pessimism of his years of isolation permitted him to see that advanced industrial society, as he calls it, is of a piece, a unity founded on the parcellization of existence. But he didn't see it all that well. Rediscovering optimism (through no fault of his own) he rediscovered the fragmentary opposition of his past. Destroy the bourgeois university? Never! You dare, vandal! How can we participate in running it then?

The process of reification has not spared his imagination.

We note (from the same newspaper accounts) that he was impressed we wrote of inspired in France (May-June 1968) -- All power to the imagination; Be realistic, demand the impossible. There was, among others, another which he never mentioned: Humanity will be happy the day the last bureaucrat is hanged with the guts of the last capitalist. As for doctors of speculation, they will also pass.

Meanwhile, a glib professor, but a social democrat also, is like a gold ring in a sow's nose.

(Written by Robert Chasse, this text was distributed at an appearance by Marcuse on 5 December 1968, and reprinted as part of "Faces of Recuperation," which appeared in Situationist International #1, June 1969.)

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