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Socialism as a utopia is dead – but a living opportunity?

What theory of socialism in the western countries has Herbert Marcuse put forward? And can we counter the criticism that some leftist groups have directed at Marcuse?


This article is 1. a review of the two books by German-American philosopher Herbert Marcuse that have come in Norwegian this year, The one-dimensional human being (Pax) and Utopia possible » (Valid), and 2. an attempt to refute the criticisms of leading SUF teams against the same Marcuse.

While Marcuse at the end of The one-dimensional human being is very pessimistic on behalf of socialism by pointing to the lack of revolutionary subjects in modern industrial society, he opens optimistically in Utopia is possible by declaring that socialism as a utopia is dead and has become a living possibility. This is not due to the fact that the analysis in the two books is significantly different, but to different emphases within the same analysis. The fact that the underlines are different may have been the reason for that The one-dimensional human being came out in 1964 – before the upsurge in an international student movement, while Utopia is possible first appeared in 1967, and is a record of discussions with the rebel students in Berlin.

Revolutionary subject means at Marcuse a movement that rejects the Existing, and advocates to abolish it revolutionary. The working class is a revolutionary subject insofar as it is conscious that its interests are not served by capitalist society, and struggles to replace it with a society that serves the interests of the working class and thus the public, and not the interest of a small ruling group in maintaining its dominion. . A working class that is not conscious of this is merely an object, that is, only a possible revolutionary subject.

One of Marcuse's main theses in "The One-dimensional Man" is that the working class in modern industrial society is no longer a revolutionary object. The one-dimensional human being is to be understood as a human being who does not look beyond the Dimension of the Existent who does not see the possibility or desirability of changing the Existing. Marcuse's judgment is that the workers do not perceive that their interests are contrary to the Existing, but that they have, on the other hand, identified themselves with the interests of their oppressors.

In other words, Marcuse says something that is not very original, namely that the working class is "civilized". The original is that he does not dismiss this as a moral or final judgment. His main interest and main merit in "The One-Dimensional Man" is his demonstration that even though the class struggle is down, the class community has not been lifted, his demonstration that the class community works more efficiently than ever, that the exploitation only takes more ingenious forms than before.

The key to Marcuse's understanding of modern capitalism is the characteristic he describes as the irrational rationalism of capitalism. The depression in 1929, which was the result of a growing gap between supply and demand, put an end to the non-regulated, free business world. Since then, resources and the market have become increasingly coordinated in state-regulated monopoly capitalism. The gap between supply and demand has been bridged through 1. major government orders, especially military ones, for the private business sector, and 2. the development of a comprehensive social security system and larger wage payments. This has not diminished dominion. Rather, it is concentrated and rationalized on fewer hands, but is, on the other hand, less transparent because of the growing bureaucracy it surrounds.

One of the main functions of the bureaucracy is planning. This planning is based on the needs of the Existing, but because of its seemingly unpolitical expert character, it assumes a rational appearance. The most grotesque example is that it seems rational to spend large parts of the resources on preparing for war and destruction. Science and technology become ideology, the most important defenses of dominion. The science that questions the rationality of the Existing is dismissed as irrational, precisely because it does not take into account what is given.

The increased proportion of workers in the prosperity of capitalism has led them to identify their interests with the Existing. They see it as their interest to produce electric toothbrushes, which they can then spin and save to buy. They see it as their interest to produce increasingly poor cars, which they then have to replace more and more often. They see it as their interest to produce weapons, which the rulers use against their classmates outside, and can hold like a rice behind the mirror at home. They see it as their interest to rationalize and collaborate on the production that for capitalism is the production of socially necessary garbage. In short, they see it as their interest to produce their own oppression.

The dissatisfied workers feel under the system, being manipulated away by a more and more effective industrial sociology and psychology. For example, Marcuse cites how American industrial psychologists are dealing with workers who say wages are too low. Such a statement contains a potential dissatisfaction with the entire system. This discontent is manipulated by individualizing the statement: one finds that the particular worker who said this, for example, was in the special situation that he had his wife in hospital, or had an unpaid installment rate hanging over him. The individual worker is then helped in that particular situation.

This article does not provide any more examples of Marcuse's analysis. It should be noted here that Marcuse makes one-dimensionalism transparent in most areas of social life, and that his analysis is therefore of the greatest importance for the laying out of a socialist tactic and strategy today.

When Marcuse in Utopia is possible argues that socialism is no longer a utopia, it is not because he believes that the upswing in the student movement alone can make socialism a reality. What he says is that in modern capitalism, the objective, material preconditions for socialism are more strongly present than ever before. Objectively, it is no longer a utopia to reduce work to a minimum. Objectively, it is no longer a utopia to cover all human needs far beyond the most basic. Objectively, therefore, there is no longer any utopia that all people can become free and independent.

It is within the realm of necessity and freedom that capitalism maintains, these opportunities seem utopian. Only through the revolutionary abolition of capitalism can the possibilities come to fruition.

The dilemma of Marcuse and the West German students in Possibly utopia is thus that the possibilities that can only be realized by the abolition of capitalism, by most within capitalism are subjectively perceived as utopias. In other words, the dilemma is the same that all revolutionary socialists today face, and which is currently threatening to tear them apart as a group. It must be said here that Marcuse has little to offer when it comes to tactics and strategy. His main merit is to clarify the foundations of tactics and strategy.

Had the criticism leveled at Marcuse by senior SUF teams been found to be incapable of providing a recipe for mobilization for socialism, it would have been criticism that Marcuse himself might have approved. But that's not what this is about.

SUF Bulletin # 3 for this year fires from a completely different attack on Marcuse. It is edited by Brigt Kristensen, who has also written a preface. Otherwise, the bulletin contains an article by Torbjørn Kalberg, "Herbert Marcuse a Renewer of Marxism?", And an article by Kjell Skjervo, "The Decay of Socialism from Science to Utopia."

The attack can be summarized in the following three claims:

  1. Marcuse's theory of working class citizenship is a theory that denies the existence of the class community, and thus encourages class collaboration.
  2. Accordingly, Marcuse places "fierce" emphasis on the role of intellectuals and youth in the revolutionary struggle.
  3. Marcuse is concerned with technology, not capitalism.

This attack is largely based on a decisive but decisive main premise. And it is that Marcuse, for example, believes that the class community is objectively abolished when he says that it seems subjective. This is how the article authors must have perceived him. But this premise thus fails. Marcuse repeatedly emphasizes that it is one of his main interests to reveal the reality behind the ideology. And he delivers strong attacks on the social sciences that let people's subjective opinions describe the objective reality and thus elevate ideology to science.

Concerning claim # 1, it is therefore not right that Marcuse deny the existence of the class community. On the contrary, he says that the class community exists, and he does something more: He shows by what means it works, including the exploitation, manipulation and indoctrination of the working class.

Claim # 2 is to say that Marcuse in no way believes that the students alone can make any revolution. A quote from Utopia is possible"First of all, I want to prevent the misunderstanding that I should regard the intellectual opposition in and of itself as an already existing revolutionary force, or hippies as the heirs of the proletariat."

Claim # 3 is to say that it should be clear from the above notification that Marcuse is very much concerned with capitalism. He is admittedly also concerned with science and technology. He is concerned that science and technology, as they are becoming the most important productive forces, have become some of capitalism's most important tools of oppression, and he is concerned with the ideological function they have by virtue of the independent, rational domination they seem to exercise.

Thus, the criticism of the SUF bulletin does not stand out with very rational strength. The articles distort Marcuse to the extent that it is almost impossible to recognize him from his books. They are also full of contradictions. This sweeps Brigt Kristensen quite sovereignly aside with the following remark: "Probably there are ambiguities and contradictions of Marcuse." For the undersigned, it seems that either the article writers have read little or nothing of the philosopher they criticize, or they have read Marcuse as a certain man reading the Bible. It is this that makes the criticism interesting, not its content in and of itself.

The SUF is a youth organization that has revolutionized the program (and this is excellent), but in addition, the SUF leadership has taken the lead in introducing a language and tactics that belong in a revolutionary situation. Thus, the correctness of the current SUF management's tactics will lie with the question whether the assessment of the situation has been correct. It will stand or fall with the question of whether the situation is subjectively revolutionary, with the question of "the concrete reality of the class struggle" being a subjective reality.

In connection with this, in his books Marcuse considers the situation totally different from leading SUFs. He believes that we are not in a subjective revolutionary situation. If he is right, SUF is wrong with its tactics. The only explanation for a criticism of Marcuse that so completely goes beyond the target is that one has not realized the range of one's language use and tactics, and that one therefore irrationally responds to an analysis that an instinctive feel goes beyond one's own tactics.

We who agree with Marcuse, as Kjell Skjervø writes, are stuck in the dilemma that the need for revolution is suppressed by capitalism. This suppression of needs called old Karl Marx alienation. We think socialism is difficult, but possible. Maybe it can be made too easy, and thus impossible.

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