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Marcuse, Radical Politics and the New Left

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Abstract

Marcuse was not the first Marxist to formulate theories of the integration of the working class and capitalist stabilization, but few other avowed Marxists have presented such a theory so bleakly and bluntly. Marcuse’s dilemma was that he wanted at the same time to remain a Marxist, be loyal to the project of critical theory developed by the Institute for Social Research, and be an independent thinker. In view of his writings and activity both before and after the publication of ODM, it is clear that he revently desired total revolution, described as a radical upheaval and overthrow of the previously existing order, bringing about wide-ranging changes that would eliminate capitalism and establish revolutionary socialism. As noted, Marcuse has told me that his experiences in the German Revolution of 1918 gave him a sense that genuine revolution was characterized by a totality of upheaval — a view articulated at the time by Rosa Luxemburg, whom Marcuse greatly admired and who decisively influenced his concept of revolution.1 Consequently, with such a totalistic concept of revolution, any reforms or social change that did not lead to an overthrow of capitalism only impressed Marcuse as a cosmetic improvement of the existing system.2

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Notes and References

  1. Conversation with Marcuse, 28 December 1978.

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  2. See also Marcuse, ‘Revolutionary Subject and Self-Government’, Praxis 5 (1969) pp. 327–8.

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  3. For Marcuse’s appraisal of Benjamin, where he elaborates on this notion, see his ‘Nachwort’ to Walter Benjamin, Zur Kritik der Gewalt und andere Aufsätze (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1965) pp. 99–106. Marcuse’s increasingly embittered critic, Erich Fromm, jumped on this passage and wrote: ‘These quotations show how wrong those are who attack or admire Marcuse as a revolutionary leader: for revolution was never based on hopelessness, nor can it ever be. But Marcuse is not even concerned with politics; for if one is not concerned with steps between the present and the future, one does not deal with politics, radical or otherwise. Marcuse is essentially an example of an alienated intellectual, who presents his personal despair as a theory of radicalism’

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  4. Fromm, The Revolution of Hope (New York: Bantam, 1968) pp. 8–9. This quote shows how Fromm tends to take a single passage out of Marcuse’s complex theory and build a global critique on the basis of it. Marcuse’s later activity and theoretical perspectives show the groundlessness of Fromm’s ‘critique’.

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  5. Allegations of Marcuse’s supposed ‘anarchism’ are made by, among others, Maurice Cranston in his article ‘Herbert Marcuse’, in Prophetic Politics (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970) pp. 85ff.

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  6. Soviet critics make similar charges; see Steigerwald, Herbert Marcuses ‘dritter Weg’; and Jack Woddis, new Theories of Revolution (New York: International Publishers, 1972).

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  7. On Breton, see Manifestoes of Surrealism (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1969) and What is Surrealism? (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1978). Marcuse makes explicit the connection between Breton, the Great Refusal and the artistic avant-garde in the 1960 preface to R&R, pp. x–xi.

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  8. See Murray Bookchin, ‘Beyond Neo-Marxism’, Telos, 36 (Summer 1978) where Bookchin complains that Marcuse falls back on orthodox Marxian political conceptions time and time again after seeming to break with Marxism and ‘pave new theoretical ground’ (pp. 5ff). Bookchin claims that despite some kinship Marcuse is at odds with anarchism on fundamental issues.

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  9. See ‘Thoughts on the Defense of Gracchus Babeuf’ in The Defense of Gracchus Babeuf Before the High Court of Vendome (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1967) p. 104.

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  10. See Paul Piccone and Alex Delfini, ‘Marcuse’s Heideggerian Marxism’, I would also disagree here with Morton Schoolman, who in his book, The Imaginary Witness, claims that in Marcuse’s early works he stressed the ‘hidden capacities of individuals for progressive political opposition’ and that he abandoned this belief in the wake of fascism, replacing ‘the highly politicized individual of his early writings with a one-dimensional subject, incapable of politics or thought … where this version of critical theory is adopted, its disciples become new victims of the politics that gave it birth’. This interpretation completely disregards the theory of liberation — which stressed the creative and rebellious capabilities of human beings — in Eros and Civilization, a theory which resurfaced in his later works such as EL and CR&R. It also misreads ODM, failing to see that even here Marcuse explicitly calls for individual revolt and refusal, but is pessimistic about the prospects for collective action which would radically modify the existing society.

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  11. On Marcuse and the New Left, see Paul Breines’s articles in Antworten auf Herbert Marcuse and Critical Interruptions. Jean-Michel Palmier’s Herbert Marcuse et la nouvelle gauche (Paris: Belfond, 1973) contains an exhaustive study of the relevance of Marcuse’s ideas to New Left theory and practice in France and America.

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  12. For more critical accounts of Marcuse and the New Left, see A. Quattrocchi and T. Nairn, The Beginning of the End: France, May 1968 (London: Penguin, 1968)

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  13. Henri Lefebvre, The Explosion: Marxism and the French Upheaval (New York: Monthly Review, 1969). Cohn-Bendit is sceptical of whether Marcuse had much influence on the French student movement: ‘Some people try to foist Marcuse upon us as a mentor. This is a joke. None of us have read Marcuse’. Some people have read Marx, perhaps Bakunin and when it comes to modern authors — Althusser, Mao, Guevara, Lefebvre.

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  14. Almost all the rebels have read Sartre’; cited in E. Batalov, The Philosophy of Revolt (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977) p. 52. Palmier contests this, claiming that many had read Marcuse and that there was a surge of interest in his writings durng and after the May events. On this topic, see Palmier’s earlier book Sur Marcuse (Paris: Union Générale d’Editions, 1968) and La Nef, 36 (Janvier-Mars 1969) on ‘Marcuse. Cet Inconnu’.

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  15. See ‘Ethics and Revolution’, where Marcuse defines revolution as ‘the overthrow of a legally established government and constitution by a social class or movement with the aim of altering the social as well as the political structure … such a radical and qualitative change implies violence’; in Ethics and Society, ed. Richard T. DeGeorge (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966) p. 134. See also Marcuse, ‘Re-Examination of the Concept of Revolution’, New Left Review, 56 (July–August 1969) pp. 27ff.

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  16. Right-wing critics had a field day with ‘Repressive Tolerance’, quoting Marcuse out of context and labelling him an ‘elitist authoritarian’, ‘nihilist’ and worse. See Vivas, Contra Marcuse, pp. 171–7, who calls Marcuse ‘the Torquemada of the left’ and ‘an intellectual termite’ with a ‘Nazi mind’. For more intelligent critical discussions of the essay, see David Spitz, ‘Pure Tolerance’, Dissent, XIII (September–October 1966) pp. 510–25:

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  17. Michael Walzer’s critique of Spitz and Marcuse, ‘On the Nature of Freedom’, Dissent, XIII (November–December 1966) which contains Spitz’s reply (pp. 725–39); see also Batalov’s Marxist-Leninist critique of Marcuse’s position, The Philosophy of Revolt.

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  18. For an indication of the gravity of the situation to which Marcuse was responding, and the dangers of nuclear extinction, see Robert Kennedy’s memoir of the Cuban missile crisis, Thirteen Days (New York: Norton, 1969). Other accounts of the period, which render plausible Marcuse’s call for intolerance against the policies of the existing society, include Bruce Miroff, Pragmatic Illusions (New York: McKay, 1976) and Hodgson, America in Our Time.

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  19. See Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962) for her defence of civil liberties. On the concept of a ‘proletarian public sphere’,

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  20. see Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge, Öffentlichkeit und Erfahrung (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1972).

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  21. On the New Left’s relation to the dominant communications media, see Todd Gitlin, The Whole World’s Watching (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).

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  22. Marcuse cites Fanon and Sartre here (CPT, pp. 103–4), whose advocacy of revolutionary violence against violent oppressors no doubt influenced him. See Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (London: Penguin, 1967) with an introduction by Sartre,

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  23. Jean-Paul Sartre, On Genocide (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971). For critiques of these theories of revolutionary violence, see the articles in Maurice Cranston, ed., Prophetic Politics; Woddis, New Theories of Revolutions;

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  24. and Gil Green, The New Radicalism (New York: International Publishers, 1971).

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  25. Marcuse elaborates his defence of revolutionary violence in ‘Ethics and Revolution’ and in ‘The Problem of Violence and the Radical Opposition’ (5L).

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  26. In works like EC, SM and ODM, Marcuse’s commitment to socialism is muted and is often expressed elliptically. In his post-1965 writings, however, he articulates his commitment to socialism much more explicitly. He constantly says that the only alternative to capitalism is socialism and openly proclaims himself a socialist and Marxist: see 5L, pp. 67ff and 80ff; EL, passim; and a 1968 lecture given in commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of The Guardian, where he says, ‘I believe that the alternative is socialism’, and affirms his solidarity with the struggle for socialism. In Chapter 10, I shall discuss his concept of socialism in more detail. There is also a tone of revolutionary buoyancy in his post-1966 writings which first appears, appropriately, in the 1966 preface to a new Beacon Press edition of Eros and Civilization.

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  27. I recall vividly the excitement with which the student movement received this book. See Palmier, Herbert Marcuse et al nouvelle gauche, and Arnason, Von Marcuse zu Marx, for the European reaction. The Right was again outraged by this book, violently attacking it in a spate of vitriolic reviews. See John Sparrow, ‘The Gospel of Hate’, National Review (21 October 1969)

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  28. Sidney Hook, The NY Times Book Review (20 April 1969); Lewis Feuer, Book World (23 February 1969); and, of course, Vivas, Contra Marcuse, for some choice violent and intemperate attacks that chide Marcuse for being violent and intemperate.

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  29. On the historical roots of the ‘new sensibility’ in the beatnik generation, civil rights movement and 1960s counterculture, see Morris Dickstein, Gates of Eden (New York: Basic Books, 1977).

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  30. For an unabashed celebration of the ‘new sensibility’ as a revolutionary form of consciousness, see Charles Reich, The Greening of America (New York: Random House, 1970)

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  31. the collection of reviews of this book, including a critical essay by Marcuse, The Con III Controversy (New York: Pocket Books, 1971).

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  32. Compare EL with CR&R and AD. I shall discuss Marcuse’s shifts in appraising the radical potential of the counterculture and his modified theory of ‘emancipatory art’ in Chapter 10.

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  33. There was some ambivalence as to the status Marcuse assigned to the ‘new sensibility’ and New Left groups-in-revolt in the revolutionary process. On one hand, he argued: ‘The social agents of revolution — and this is orthodox Marx — are formed only in the process of transformation itself, and one cannot count on a situation in which the revolutionary forces are there ready-made, so to speak, when the revolutionary movement begins’ (5L, p. 64). On the other hand, in his more enthusiastic moments in EL, it seemed as if the new sensibility might be a new revolutionary subject, or at least a ‘catalyst’ producing a new revolutionary subject (EL, pp. 23ff, 52f). On the concept of the revolutionary subject which haunts Marcuse’s problematic, see section 9.4.2 below.

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  34. See EL, pp. 50–7, 60.

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  35. EL, pp. 16, 53–6. See the interview with Marcuse in The New York Times Magazine (27 October 1968) where he discusses spontaneity and organization, students and workers. He concludes: ‘in spite of everything that has been said, I still cannot imagine a revolution without the working class’ (p. 89). It is not until the 1970s that Marcuse questions this basic tenet of orthodox Marxism. See section 9.4 below.

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  36. See Marcuse, ‘Revolutionary Subject and Self-Government’, and section 9.4.2 below.

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  37. For Marcuse’s reaction to May 1968 in France, see ‘The Paris Rebellion’, Peace News (28 June 1968) pp. 6–7.

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  38. See the sources in note 9; Marcuse’s interviews listed in the bibliography; and Herbert Gold, ‘California Left’.

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  39. Many of the New Left were attracted to the Third World revolutionary theories of Fanon, Mao, Debray, Castro, Guevara and others; Marcuse was often associated with this tendency; see the books already cited in note 15 for critiques of this ‘Third Worldism’ and Robert E. Wood’s comments on ‘Rethinking Third World Revolutions’, in Socialist Review, 45 (May–June 1979) pp. 159ff.

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  40. Marcuse, ‘Re-examination of the Concept of Revolution’, p. 31.

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  41. Ibid.

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  42. From the late 1960s on, Marcuse significantly accelerated and radicalized his critique of Soviet Marxism and orthodox Communist parties from his more restrained criticism in Soviet Marxism (see Chapter 7). No doubt the continuing stifling repression in the Soviet bloc, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, and the reformist nature of Communist parties in the West, together with the emergence of new socialist forces, led him to re-evaluate Soviet Marxism. See EL, pp. 54f.

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  43. 5L, pp. 70–1, 96, 98; EL, pp. vii-x, 3ff, 23ff, 49ff and 79ff.

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  44. Marcuse shifts from a more abstract model of advanced industrial society in ODM, to a focus on ‘corporate capitalism’ in EL, to a focus on the constellation of capitalism and the Left opposition in the United States in CR&R, where he explicitly states that he will only ‘focus the discussion on the prospects for radical change in the United States’ (CR&R, p. 5).

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  45. For critiques of Marcuse’s lack of a concept of ‘determinate negation’, see Franklin’s article in Telos, 6, and Steigerwald, Herbert Marcuses ‘dritter Weg’, pp. 317ff, passim. In an article, ‘The Concept of Negation in the Dialectic’, Telos, 9 (Summer 1971) pp. 130–2, Marcuse indeed appeals to a principle of external mediation: ‘The power of the negative arises outside this repressive totality from forces and movements still not grasped by the aggressive, repressive productivity of the so-called “society of abundance”, from forces and movements which have already freed themselves from this development and thus have the historical opportunity to actually modernize and industrialize humanely’ (p. 132). In the late 1960s, however, Marcuse abandoned this notion of ‘external negation’ for a theory of ‘determinate negation’, in which the forces of negation were actually produced by contradictions and conditions within the existing society, thus rendering Franklin’s critique irrelevant.

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  46. For an account of current capitalist organization and administration, Marcuse refers the readers to the works of Baran and Sweezy, Kolko, Magdoff and Domhoff in CR&R, p. 5, thus showing that he follows both Marxian ruling-class and power elite analyses and does not accept politically neutral theories of technological domination, as some of his critics of ODM claimed (i.e. Claus Offe or Morton Schoolman — see the discussion in the last chapter). Marcuse makes his position clear in a critique of Charles Reich’s, The Greening of America. First, he sets forth Reich’s revolutionary fantasy: ‘One day in the foreseeable future, men and women, boys and girls from all walks of life will have enough of the old, will quit. And since there is “nobody in control”, this will be it’. Marcuse’s rejoinder is: ‘Nobody in control of the armed forces, the police, the National Guard? Nobody in control of the outer space program, of the budget, the Congressional committees? There is only the machine being tended to? But the machine not only must be tended to, it must be designed, constructed, programmed, directed. And there are very definite, identifiable persons, groups, classes, interests which do this controlling job, which direct the technical, economic, political machine for the society as a whole. They, not their machine, decided on life and death, war and peace — they set the priorities. They have all the power to defend it — and it is not the power of the machine but over the machine: human power, political power’; in The Con III Controversy, pp. 16–17.

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  47. On the ‘new working class’, see Serge Mallet, Essays on the New Working Class (St Louis: Telos Press, 1975) and the literature to which Marcuse refers in CR&R, pp. 10 and 35.

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  48. Marcuse cites the appropriate passage in Marx in CR&R, pp. 11–13.

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  49. A special supplement, ‘The Debt Economy’ in Business Week, (12 October 1974) states: ‘It is inevitable that the US economy will grow more slowly that it has … Some people will obviously have to do with less … Yet it will be a hard pill for many Americans to swallow — the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more … Nothing that this nation, or any other nation, has done in modern history compares in difficulty with the selling job that must now be done to make people accept the new reality’. This is a dangerous situation for the capitalist class, in that many political theorists have argued that ‘rising expectations’ that are not met lead to demands for radical change. See Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology (New York: The Free Press, 1960) pp. 31ff.

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  50. A study put out by the Health, Education and Welfare Department of the US Government, Work in America, concluded that ‘A changing American work force is becoming pervasively dissatisfied with dull, unchallenging and repetitive jobs, and this discontent is sapping the economic and social strength of the nation’, reported in The New York Times (22 December 1972) p. 1. Reports show a decline in productivity in the American economy during the 1970s. See the January 1979 Economic Report of the President, prepared by Charles Schultze and the Council of Economic Advisors, and the 1979 study by the New York Stock Exchange, Reaching a Higher Standard of Living. These reports were widely discussed by the business press and were analysed in In These Times (23–9 May 1979) p. 17.

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  51. ‘For Marcuse’s reaction to the publicity that William Calley received after being brought to trial after revelations of the US massacre of Vietnamese in My Lai, see his article in The New York Times (13 May 1971) p. 45.

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  52. In a conversation with Hans-Magnus Enzensberger, Marcuse discusses tendencies towards fascism in the USA. ‘USA: Organisations-frage und revolutionäres Subjekt’, reprinted in Zeit-Messungen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1975). The conversation was first published in Enzensberger’s journal, Kursbuch, 22 (1970) which discussed the dangers of fascism and included a collage of material assembled by Marcuse’s friend Reinhard Lettau, ‘Täglicher Faschismus’. For similar fears that fascism is on its way in advanced capitalist countries, see Les Temps Modernes, ‘Nouveau fascisme, nouvelle démocratie’, no. 310 (1972) and Bertram Gross, Friendly Fascism (New York: Basic Books, 1980).

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  53. Marcuse, ‘The Movement in a New Era of Repression: An Assessment’, Berkeley Journal of Sociology, vol. XVI (1971–2) p. 8.

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  54. Marcuse’s favourite book on the New Left is A Disrupted History: The New Left and the New Capitalism, (New York: Random House, 1971); see CR&R, p. 10. See also The New Left: A Documentary History, ed. Massimo Teodori (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969).

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  55. It might be noted that the term ‘United Front’ historically signified in Marxian discourse a merger of left-wing parties, both in leadership and base (as with the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution), or at least a unity of action between working-class parties — and not a loose coalition of democratic groups and rebellious individuals. Marcuse’s concept is actually closer to what has been called a ‘popular front’, in which separate parties, or groups, remain autonomous while they struggle for a ‘common programme’ or for specific goals. It seems that Marcuse’s use of the term ‘United Front’ serves as a rhetorical device which makes it appear that a coalition of democratic-populist groups may be the most promising force for developing a socialist movement in the United States.

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  56. For details of some of Marcuse’s political involvements with the New Left, see the sources listed in note 9.

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  57. On Marcuse’s 1967 trip to Berlin, see the account in Der Spiegel, Nr 25 (1967) pp. 103–4, and the lectures that were later published in 5L. For an account of Marcuse’s less successful visit to Berlin in 1968, see Melvin J. Lasky, ‘Revolution Diary’, Encounter, vol. XXXI, no. 2 (August 1968) pp. 6–8. For Marcuse’s speech at the 1967 London ‘Dialectics of Liberation’ conference, see ‘Liberation from the Affluent Society.’

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  58. Marcuse left Brandeis in 1965 when, after a series of disputes with the university President Abram Sacher, his post-retirement contract was not renewed. See Atlantic Monthly (June 1971) p. 74.

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  59. California newspapers regularly attacked Marcuse, and pressures from the California Board of Regents forced Marcuse to give up teaching officially in 1969, although he was allowed to keep his office and to give informal seminars. On the death threats he received, see The Nation (28 October 1968) p. 421.

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  60. See Angela Davis, An Autobiography (New York: Random House, 1974) for her account of Marcuse’s influence on her. Other evaluations include ‘Marcuse as Teacher’, William Leiss, John David Ober and Erica Sherover, in The Critical Spirit. pp. 421–6,

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  61. Ronald Aronson, ‘Dear Herbert’, Radical America, vol. IV, no. 3 (April 1970).

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  62. Marcuse, ‘Marxism and Feminism’, lecture delivered at Stanford University (7 March 1974).

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  63. Marcuse, ‘Theorie und Praxis’, in Zeit-Messungen.

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  64. Marcuse, ‘Scheitern der Neuen Linken?’, Zeit-Messungen, translated in New German Critique, 18 (Fall 1979).

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  65. For a report on Marcuse’s last lecture in Frankfurt, see Jeffrey Herf, ‘The Critical Theory of Herbert Marcuse’, New German Critique, 18 (Fall 1979). During my last interview with Marcuse in December 1978, he was searching for Horkheimer’s essay, ‘Die Juden in Europa’ as material for a Holocaust essay.

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  66. Marcuse, BBC interview with Brian Magee, published as part of Men of Ideas (London: BBC, 1978).

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  67. ‘A Conversation with Herbert Marcuse’, Bill Moyers Journal (12 March 1974), transcript, p. 1, and ‘Scheitern?’.

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  68. Marcuse and Enzensberger, ‘USA’, in Zeit-Messungen.

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  69. Marcuse, ‘Theory and Politics’, p. 150.

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  70. In a 1957 preface to Raya Dunayevskaya’s Marxism and Freedom, Marcuse writes: ‘Marx’s concept of the proletariat as “revolutionary class in-itself (an sich)” did not designate a merely occupational group — i.e. the wage earners engaged in the material production — as a truly dialectical concept, it was at one and the same time an economic, political and philosophical category. As such it comprised three main elements — (1) the specific societal mode of production characteristic of “free” capitalism, (2) the existential and political conditions brought about by this mode of production, (3) the political consciousness developed in this situation. Any historical change in even one of these elements (and such a change has certainly occurred) would require a thorough theoretical modification. Without such modification, the Marxian notion of the working class seems to be applicable neither to the majority of the labouring classes in the West nor to that in the communist orbit’ (p. 12). Precisely this issue has preoccupied Marcuse throughout the last decades. Compare CR&R, pp. 38–9.

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  71. Marx consistently took this position from his 1843 ‘Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law’, until his death. See Carol Johnson, ‘Reformism and Commodity Fetishism’, for a collection of Marx’s descriptions of the proletariat throughout his life.

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  72. Throughout his 1970s writings, Marcuse emphasizes that the proletariat is the revolutionary subject for Marx by virtue of its needs; see CR&R, pp. 38–9 and ‘Einheitsfront’, p. 21.

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  73. Karl Marx, Letter to Lassalle, cited in a lecture by Marcuse at Columbia University, 11 October 1972.

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  74. Marcuse constantly argues this position in the 1970s; see Marcuse and Enzensberger, ‘USA’, pp. 56ff; CR&R, pp. 10ff; Marcuse and Habermas, ‘Theory and Politics’, p. 150; and ‘Reification of the Proletariat’, p. 20.

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  75. Marcuse and Habermas, ‘Theory and Politics’, p. 150.

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  76. Marcuse and Enzensberger, ‘USA’, p. 56, and Marcuse and Habermas, ‘Theory and Politics’, p. 50.

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  77. Marcuse’s friend Heinz Lubasz argued that ‘Marx did not discover the revolutionary proletariat’, he invented it’. See ‘Marx’s Conception of the Revolutionary Proletariat’, Praxis, 5, 1–2 (1969) p. 288.

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  78. McCarthy, Marx and the Proletariat.

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  79. André Gorz, Adieux au Proletariat, translated as Farewell to the Working Class (Boston: South End Press, 1982).

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  80. Most Marxist theories of capitalist crisis posit a final collapse of capitalism as part of the crisis theory. See the discussions of the crisis theory cited in Chapter 8 note 67. Up until the post-war period, Marcuse seemed to have accepted orthodox Marxian theories of capitalist crisis and collapse, indicating another dogma of orthodox Marxism which Marcuse is now questioning.

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  81. Marcuse, ‘Theory and Practice’, pp. 32f; ‘Scheitern?’, p. 42.

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  82. Marcuse, ‘Murder is no Weapon of Politics’, in Die Zeit and New German Critique.

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  83. See the material in my book Karl Korsch, especially pp. 80–3 and 274–8, and Korsch’s article ‘Marx’ Stellung in der europäischen Revolution von 1848’, in Karl Korsch: Politische Texte (Frankfurt: Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1974).

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  84. Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (London: Penguin Books, 1961).

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  85. Alvin W. Gouldner, The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology (New York: Seabury, 1976) Bahro, Die Alternative, whose analysis can be applied as Marcuse suggests, to capitalist countries.

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  86. In The Imaginary Witness, Morton Schoolman opens his discussion of Marcuse’s theory of advanced industrial society with a quote from Milton that contains this phrase, which he later uses as a subtitle for a section of his study (pp. 162ff). My analysis here indicates the insulting ludicrousness of such a designation for Marcuse.

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  87. Marcuse is extremely impressed by Rudolf Bahro’s book Die Alternative: Zur Kritik des real existierenden Sozialismus (Frankfurt: 1977), translated as The Alternative in Eastern Europe (London: New Left Books, 1978). In a review of Bahro’s book, ‘Proto-socialism and Late Capitalism’, Marcuse describes it as ‘the most important contribution to Marxist theory and practice to appear in several decades’ (p. 25). The similarity between Bahro’s and Marcuse’s own theory is striking, so it is not surprising that Marcuse would be attracted to Bahro’s theory. Marcuse suggests that Bahro’s analysis of ‘really existing socialism’ is also relevant for advanced capitalism, and applies Bahro’s categories to analyse its social conditions and consciousness. The fact that Bahro presents himself as a critical Marxist who is explicitly developing and expanding Marx’s categories by applying Marx’s method to analyse contemporary conditions, allows Marcuse to claim the same for himself, and to present Bahro and his own work as creative Marxism which both questions and goes beyond an outdated orthodoxy. On Bahro’s background and imprisonment after the publication of his explosive book, see David Bathrick, ‘The Politics of Culture: Rudolf Bahro and Opposition in the GDR’, and Hugh Mosley, “The New Communist Opposition: Bahro’s critique of the ‘Really Existing Socialism”’, both in New German Critique, 15 (Fall 1978), as well as the interviews with Bahro in Labour Focus on Eastern Europe (November 1977 to November 1979).

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  88. Bahro, The Alternative, pp. 257ff.

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  89. Marcuse, ‘Reification of the Proletariat’, p. 21, compare Bahro’s analysis in The Alternative, pp. 257ff.

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  90. Marcuse, ‘Reification of the Proletariat’, pp. 21–2.

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  91. Marcuse, ‘Proto-socialism and Late Capitalism’, p. 27; compare Bahro, The Alternative, pp. 272ff, passim.

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  92. Marcuse, ‘Proto-socialism’, pp. 31ff; Bahro, The Alternative, pp. 253ff, discussed in Mosley, ‘The New Communist Opposition’, pp. 28ff. Bahro outlines a quite specific programme as to how this transformation could be brought about in existing socialist countries. No doubt the real threat to Party dictatorship and socialist bureaucrats in Bahro’s ‘alternative’ led Party officials to imprison him and then to force him into exile.

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  93. In the New Left Review summary of his theses, Bahro writes: The entire second part of my book pursues the question of on what general basis the rule of man over man persists in our society, and how our socio-economic structure concretely functions so as to give rise to this oppressive socio-psychological effect. The problem of subalternity is the cornerstone of my alternative conception. For as regards the practical political perspective of the barriers to be attacked, the movement of general emancipation today has precisely the task of liquidating those conditions that produce subaltern individuals, a species of thinking ants, instead of free people. New Left Review, 106 (November–December 1977) 111ff.

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  94. Marcuse, ‘Pro-socialism’, pp. 36ff. There are striking similarities between Bahro’s ‘alternative’ socialist society and Marcuse’s ‘new definition of socialism’, which will be discussed in the next chapter.

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  95. For analysis of the tradition of socialist democracy and criticisms of Social Democratic and Leninist traditions that have suppressed the emancipatory core of Marxian socialism, see Stephen Eric Bronner, ‘The Socialist Project’ and Iring Fetscher, ‘The Changing Goals of Socialism in the Twentieth Century’, both in Social Research, vol. 47, no. 1 (Spring 1980).

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  96. Some critics, however, stress the neo-Leninist features of Bahro’s analysis: see Andrew Arato and Mihaly Vajda, ‘The Limits of the Leninist Opposition’, New German Critique, 19 (Winter 1980)

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  97. Andrew Arato’s review of Rudolf Bahro: Critical Responses, ed. Ulf Wolter (White Plains, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1980) in Telos, 48 (Summer 1981). See also David Stark’s discussion in ‘Consciousness in Command’, Socialist Review, 57 (May–June 1981) pp. 128ff. Other readers stress Bahro’s kinship with a non-Leninist ‘Western Marxism’ tradition;

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  98. see Raymond Williams, ‘Reflections on Bahro’, New Left Review, 120 (March–April 1980), who points to his own kinship with Bahro;

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  99. a study by Peter Ludz, ‘The Aesthetic Dimension of the New Revisionism: Rudolf Bahro’ in Social Research, vol. 47, no. 1 (Spring 1980), who emphasizes the Marcusean-Habermasian themes in Bahro and the importance of the cultural dimension in his theory. In fact, there are contradictions in Bahro’s theory between the tradition of democratic socialism in the Luxemburg-Korsch ‘workers’ councils’ tradition and a neo-Leninist tradition, which stresses revolution from above. Further debate over Bahro’s work is found in Rudolf Bahro: Critical Responses.

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  100. See the sources in the note 82; for an especially clear formulation of this position, see Marcuse’s discussion with Sartre, ‘A Propos de Livre’. On a raison de se révolterLiberation (7 juin 1974) p. 9. I review Sartre’s book in Telos, 22 (Winter 1974–5) and translate there the debate between Sartre and Marcuse on the role of intellectuals in promoting social change. See also the comments on this exchange in Ronald Aronson, Jean-Paul Sartre — Philosophy in the World (London: New Left Books, 1980) pp. 319ff.

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  101. The theme of an ‘intellectual dictatorship’ is a disturbing theme which winds through Marcuse’s works. Although he never develops the concept in any detail, he constantly alludes to it as a ‘provocation’. See EC, p. 225; ODM, p. 40; CPT, p. 106; EL, p. 70; and ‘Proto-Socialism’, p. 32.

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  102. Marcuse, ‘Proto-Socialism’, p. 32.

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  103. Marcuse and Habermas, ‘Theory and Politics’, p. 136. In the ‘1968 Postscript’ to the Beacon Press paperback edition of CPT, Marcuse writes: ‘However, the alternative to the established semi-democratic process is not a dictatorship or elite, no matter how intellectual and intelligent, but the struggle for a real democracy’ (p. 122). In fact, Marcuse ends up arguing in ‘Proto-socialism’ that an elite provides the most promising way to lead the people to a ‘real democracy’.

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  104. Bahro explicitly describes his concept of a new Communist organization and the ‘collective intellectual’ as:

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  105. ‘(1) not a working-class party in the old — and far too narrow sense, but a combination of all those people, from all strata and groups in society, whose consciousness is dominated by emancipatory needs and interests; (2) not a mass party of the sort where a self appointed elite leadership of authoritarian intellectuals manipulates those labelled “members”, but a union of individuals who are like-minded, i.e. interested in solving the same problems and all regarded as equally competent; (3) not a sectarian corporation of “those who know best”, closed off from society, but a revolutionary community open towards society and which anyone striving in the same direction can join; (4) not a super-state organization which guides and controls the actual apparatus of the state and administration from outside and from above, but the ideal inspirer of an integrated activity of all groups at the base, which gives people the capacity to control all decision-making procedures from within’; in ‘The Alternative’, New Left Review, pp. 23–4.

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  106. Ibid.; see Gramsci, Prison Notebooks.

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  107. See Gramsci, Prison Notebooks; Sartre’s On a raison de se revolter (Paris: Gallimand, 1973); and my review in Telos, 22.

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  108. Bahro, ‘The Alternative’, NLR, p. 25.

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  109. See Sartre’s distinction between the ‘classical intellectual’ and ‘organic intellectual’ (Gramsci) in his essay ‘A Plea for Intellectuals’, in Between Marxism and Existentialism (New York: Pantheon, 1975). In On a raison, Sartre and his friends call for an ‘intellectual of a new sort’. I fear that Marcuse is, by contrast, valorizing the classical intellectual, of which he himself is an outstanding example.

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  110. See Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, and Bahro, The Alternative’.

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  111. Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1965). Bahro’s kinship with Trotsky’s political position is discussed in Hermann Weber, ‘The Third Way’, in Bahro: Critical Responses. Weber does stress that Bahro’s conceiving of the Soviet Union as constituted by a semi-asiatic mode of production is far from Trotsky’s position on the Soviet Union.

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  112. Arato-Vadja, ‘The Limits of the Leninist Opposition’, Arato, Rudolf Bahro; and Stark, ‘Consciousness in Command’.

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  113. Stark, ‘Consciousness in Command’, argues that Bahro misinterprets the events in Czechoslovakia in 1968, seeing initiatives emerging solely from above — from intellectuals, liberal politicians and technocrats — whereas in fact, according to Stark, working-class initiative and struggle played a significant role in radicalizing, democratizing and extending the struggles in Czechoslovakia before and after the Soviet invasion. The struggles of the working class in Poland in the 1970s and 1980s suggests the limitations of Bahro’s and Marcuse’s analyses. See the dossier and discussion in Telos, 47 (Spring 1981) for documentation of the events in Poland and their significance for the creation of a democratic and human socialism.

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  114. See Alvin W. Gouldner, The New Class Project (New York: Seabury Press, 1979) and ‘Prologue to a Theory of Revolutionary Intellectuals’, Telos, 26 (Winter 1975–6).

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  115. See Marx’s 1843 article, ‘Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law. Introduction’. Too many discussions of Marx’s theory of revolution take the rather metaphysical concept of the proletariat-as-revolutionary class sketched out in the first essay in which Marx even mentioned the proletariat as providing the criteria for the revolutionary subject. Marcuse himself follows this procedure in Reason and Revolution, pp. 261ff (discussed in Chapter 5). This is a mistake, for it tends to reduce the complex and contradictory analyses in Marx’s work of the working class and revolution to a rather simplistic formula or model. For evidence that the concept of the revolutionary subject is a deeply rooted element of his theory, see Marcuse’s ‘Revolutionary Subject and Self-Government’, and references to the ‘subject of revolution’ in his Bahro essay ‘Proto-Socialism’, pp. 32ff. There is, in fact, a contradiction in Marcuse’s concept of the ‘revolutionary subject’. In ‘Revolutionary Subject and Self-Government’, he writes: ‘I would like to offer a very tentative definition of revolutionary subject by saying: It is that class or group which, by virtue of its function and position in society, is in vital need and is capable of risking what they have and what they can get within the established system in order to replace this system — a radical change which would indeed involve destruction, abolition of the existing system. I repeat, such a class or group must have the vital need for revolution, and it must be capable of at least initiating, if not carrying through, such a revolution’ (p. 326).

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  116. Here the ‘revolutionary subject’ is defined as a revolutionary class (or group) in the Marxian sense. In EL, where Marcuse talks of the ‘new sensibility’, and in ‘Proto-socialism’, where he uses Bahro’s concept of ‘surplus consciousness’, he talks of the revolutionary subject in terms of revolutionary subjectivity which cuts across class divisions. In the following paragraph, I suggest that while the concept of ‘revolutionary subject’ should be discarded for revolutionary theory, the concept of ‘revolutionary subjectivity’ is essential in talking about the conditions and forces of radical change.

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  117. Lukács, History and Class Consciousness.

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  118. For some ideas on how new social movements might be fused into a new revolutionary movement, see the discussions between Jean-Paul Sartre, P. Victor and P. Gavi in On a raison de se révolter, which I review in Telos, 22.

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© 1984 Douglas Kellner

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Kellner, D. (1984). Marcuse, Radical Politics and the New Left. In: Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism. Contemporary Social Theory. Palgrave, London. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-17583-3_10

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