The Three Dangerous “M”s : Marx, Mao und Marcuse
Born in Berlin in 1898, a member of the inner circle of Critical Theory, driven into exile by the Nazis, Marcuse was linked by the ties of solidary friendship not only with the American civil rights activist Angela Davis.
Marcuse and Rudi Dutschke
He was also in close contact in the ‘60s and early ‘70s with one of the most famous figures of the German student movement, one of the most important representatives of the SDS (Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund), with Rudi Dutschke. Marcuse and Dutschke got to know each other in 1967 at a public discussion organised by the SDS in Berlin. A friendship developed that lasted until Marcuse’s death on 29. July in Starnberg.
Their intellectual exchange on the limits and possibilities of societal processes of change became even more intense after the attack on Rudi Dutschke on 11. April 1968 and was soon to become well known in San Diego, where Marcuse taught political science and philosophy in the sixties. There the rumour spread that Dutschke was to be employed as Marcuse’s assistant at the Californian university. Reason enough for the American media to suspect a revolutionary centre at the university of the conservative naval-base city. A German revolutionary, an African-American civil rights activist (Angela Davis) and a Jewish Marxist (Marcuse) at an American university, this was too much for some American politicians in a California ruled by Governor Ronald Reagan.
It was Herbert Marcuse who, with his books Eros and Civilisation and One-Dimensional Man, provided the movement with socio-critical impulses. With the contemporary analytical concepts “one-dimensional man” and “administered society” Marcuse described the tendencies that prevented possible societal changes and blocked the practice of liberation. Marcuse’s analysis of advanced industrial society is disillusioning. The new manipulation techniques spreading in the mass media and in mass culture, accompanied by a “repressive” satisfaction of needs that allows subjective consumption to appear as objective progress, the continuing exploitation of the countries of the so-called Third World, as well as the new technologies that have become an instrument of domination and control destroy the sphere of individual experience and are threatening to integrate the forces of opposition into the system and thus strengthen it.
Marcuse’s work for the OSS
Nor was Soviet-style Communism an alternative for Marcuse. His critical analysis of Soviet society and his criticism of the authoritarian Marxist orthodoxy made him many enemies during the 1960s in SED (Socialist Unity Party, ruling party in the GDR) and DKP (German Communist Party, branch of the SED in West Germany) circles. This was prompted by Marcuse’s analyses of Nazi Germany which he had produced during the Second World War in the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a section of the State Department. In a malicious campaign circulated by the Weltbühne and the GDR media the rumour reached Germany via the Zeit and the Spiegel that Marcuse was a CIA agent. It was imputed quite untenably that Marcuse was involved in “extensive espionage activity against the Soviet Union” and that since 1943 he had been one “of the leading kremlinologists”. He was said to be not a critic of Marxism or of the capitalist system but an “agent of American capital”.
During these years Marcuse was attacked both from the left as well as from conservative right-wing circles. In the USA he even received murder threats from the Ku Klux Klan. Marcuse had to leave San Diego, go into hiding for several days and found refuge in a weekend house belonging to his friend Leo Löwenthal in Carmel, California.
Waste in the Surplus Society
Technical rationality and steadily increasing productivity enforce an apparent necessity to produce commodities and services that are not necessary for the direct satisfaction of material and cultural needs, nor could they overcome existing misery and poverty. In a system of unbridled capitalism they are a waste and produce means of destruction that threaten the entire human race. With these analyses Marcuse resonated with the feeling of a whole generation. During these years he took part in teach-ins and discussions, never shying away from any argument. According to Marcuse this showed the connection of theory and practice which determined all his intellectual work. “I believe,” he said in 1971 in a discussion with Karl Popper, “that the concepts of freedom, justice, humanity and mankind, if actually analysed and developed, include the struggle against existing exploitation, against existing inhumanity.”
For Marcuse the ’68 movement represented a “catalyst group” which with its actions could have brought this struggle into the consciousness of a broad section of society. But its permanent narcissism and its own potency fantasies destroyed this possibility. In an interview with Jürgen Habermas in 1978 Marcuse observed that: “As always the ruling class had a much better and more exact awareness of the importance of the opposition movement than the movement itself; for it saw that there was danger ahead.” But, as he had argued a year earlier with reference to Bloch’s concept of concrete utopia: “The idea of concrete utopia concerns a society in which people no longer find it necessary to live their lives as a means of subsistence under the conditions of alienation. Concrete utopia: utopia, because no such society actually exists anywhere; concrete, because such a society presents a real historical possibility.”
Marcuse, Herbert: Die Studentenbewegung und ihre Folgen, Bd. 4 der nachgelassenen Schriften, hrsg. und mit einem Vorwort von Peter-Erwin Jansen, Einleitung Wolfgang Kraushaar, Springe: zu Klampen 2004, ISBN 3-924245-86-X.
(Marcuse, Herbert: The Student Movement and its Consequences, Vol. 4 of the unpublished papers, published and with a foreword by Peter-Erwin Jansen, introduction Wolfgang Kraushaar, Springe: zu Klampen 2004, ISBN 3-924245-86-X.)
Marcuse, Herbert: Feindanalysen. Über die Deutschen, Bd. 5 der nachgelassenen Schriften, hrsg. und mit einem Vorwort von Peter-Erwin Jansen, Einleitung Detlev Claussen, Springe: zu Klampen 2007, ISBN: 978-3-86674-003-7.
(Marcuse, Herbert: Analyses of the Enemy. About the Germans, Vol. 5 of the unpublished papers, published and with a foreword by Peter-Erwin Jansen, introduction Detlev Claussen, Springe: zu Klampen 2007, ISBN: 978-3-86674-003-7.)
is a journalist, lecturer on philosophy and sociology and publisher of Ausgewählte Schriften (Selected Writings) from the unpublished papers of Herbert Marcuse and of Leo Löwenthal.
Translation: Heather Moers
Copyright: Goethe Institute, online editorial team
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