Democratic Socialism and Technological Change

  • Andrew Feenberg
Part of the Philosophy and Technology book series (PHTE, volume 7)


As the Communist world enters into an ever deepening crisis, socialist theory increasingly detaches itself from practical politics and takes refuge in normative considerations.1 This development has the merit of clarifying the fundamentally democratic inspiration of socialist ideals, but it runs the corresponding risk of recasting these ideals in a Utopian mold that invites dismissal on the grounds of impracticality. Contemporary arguments for democratic socialism are especially vulnerable to the charge that they fail to come to terms with the problems of technology, administration, and the related complex of cultural and educational issues that are ritually brought forward as fundamental obstacles to economic democratization.


Technological Change Cultural Capital Industrial Society Democratic Socialism Economic Culture 
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  1. 1.
    For a wide ranging survey of the contemporary discussion of socialism and democracy, see Frank Cunningham, Democratic Theory and Socialism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987). See also Carol Gould, Rethinking Democracy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988)3Google Scholar
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    “What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular, historical phases in the development of production, (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.” From a letter of Marx to Weydemeyer dated March 5, 1852. In V.I. Lenin, Selected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1967), volume 2, p. 291.Google Scholar
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    For more on this concept, see Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon, 1964 ), pp. 219 ff. For an account of Marcuse’s theory of potentiality, see my “The Bias of Technology,” in R. Pippin, A. Feenberg, and C. Webel, eds., Marcuse: Critical Theory and the Promise of Utopia ( Amherst, Mass.: Bergin and Garvey, 1988 ).Google Scholar
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    The two most important texts for understanding the Marxian theory of the transition are, “The Critique of the Gotha Program” and “The Civil War in France.” The relevant passages are published in Robert Tucker, ed., The Marx-Engels Reader (New York: Norton, 1972), pp. 383-398, and pp. 526–576.Google Scholar
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    Jürgen Habermas, Toward a Rational Society (Boston: Beacon, 1970), p. 87.1 will assume here that technology may be considered socially determined in some significant dimensions. My arguments for this position are offered in “The Bias of Technology,” in Pippin, Feenberg, and Webel (note 5, above), and in “The Ambivalence of Technology,” Sociological Perspectives (Fall, 1989).Google Scholar
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    There is a large literature on the concept of democratic management. See, for examples, Paul Blumberg, Industrial Democracy (New York: Schocken, 1976); and Pierre Rosanvallon, L’Age de l’autogestion (Paris: Seuil, 1976). For an evaluation of Yugoslavia in Marxist terms by a theoretician of self-management, see Mihailo Markovic, From Affluence to Praxis (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1974), chapter 4. A skeptical alternative view is presented by Ellen Comisso, Workers’ Control under Plan and Management (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979). For a recent philosophical defense and justification of self-managing socialism, see Gould, Rethinking Democracy (note 1, above), chapters 4 and 9.Google Scholar
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    For discussions of the actual problems of innovation in Communist societies, see R.V. Burks, “Technology and Political Change,” in C. Johnson, ed., Change in Communist Systems (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1970); and Rensselaer W. Lee, III, “Mass Innovation and Communist Culture: The Soviet and Chinese Cases,” in Fleron, Technology and Communist Culture (note 10, above). For a classic discussion of the wide variety of contexts in which innovation has occured historically, see John Jewkes, David Sawers, Richard Stillerman, The Sources of Invention ( New York: St. Martin’s, 1959 ).Google Scholar
  24. 38.
    For an example, see Tracy Kidder, The Soul of a New Machine (New York: Little, Brown, 1981 ).Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Arnold Pacey, The Culture of Technology ( Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1983 ).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew Feenberg
    • 1
  1. 1.San Diego State UniversityUSA

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