Richard Pierce, Member, on 2 April 2002

On page 129 of One Dimensiional Man Herbert Marcuse states "Philosophy envisages the EQUALITY of man but, at the same time, it submits to the factual denial of equality". This lecture will be pitched at a general and then at a more specialised examination of Marcuse, dealing mainly with the One Dimensiional Man, first published in 1964, and touching on Eros and Civilisation.

It can be argued generally that Marcuse is today more relevant than he has been since the late 1960s. His philosophy is linked with that of other major thinkers of the Frankfurt School such as Adorno and Althusser in stressing the manipulativ' nature of modern advanced industrial or `bourgeois' civilisation. In a nutshell, Marcuse claims that through a system of REPRESSIVE TOLERANCE we have an ideology imposed on us that has managed and processed all social conflict out of existence.

Marcuse is generally classed as a Marxist, yet departs radically from Marx in regard to the nature of any future revolution. Marxist orthodoxy looked to artisans or the industrial working class, or peasantry in the case of Chairman Mao. Marcuse rightly questioned this, as writing in the California of the mid-1960s the majority of blue-collar workers had achieved levels of affluence undreamed of by their immigrant forbears. Of course if they fell sick, their jobs ceased and medical insurance ended, their view could alter radically.

Rather than looking at class in isolation, Marcuse looked at stages in the life cycle and a person's sympathy with the Third World to highlight the possibility of social change. California is in many ways a dream state for creative sociologists and philosophers. In the mid-1960s, unprecedented numbers of young and more senior people were becoming university students or the equivalent. Marcuse rightly saw that for many from both middle and working class homes, this would be the only time in their lives when they experienced low incomes while trying to be `independent'.

Like Marx before him, Marcuse believed that past philosophers had sought to interpret the world when arguably they now needed also to change it. Marcuse certainly believed in analysing, not moralising; yet this did not rule out his philosophical support for student activism allied to solidarity with radical movements in the `developing' world.

A philosopher with whom he could be said to share ideas, Althusser, believed that the modern bourgeois state exerted its philosophical hegemony through the ideological State Apparatus and the Repressive State Apparatus. Both Althusser and Marcuse meant by the Ideological State Apparatus, or I.S.A., the tendency of the educational, media, religious and political establishment to maintain a consensus in favour of the economic status quo at all costs.

Seemingly natural rebels such as student activists; trade union leaders, supporters of Third World revolution and abstract artists could all in time be absorbed into a philosophical `big tent' of consumer democracy. Even on a purely philosophical analysis, their numbers in the UK could be said to include Jack Straw, a former N.U.S. leader, Sir Ken Jackson of the TUC Council, broadcaster Tariq Ali and the Saatchi-sponsored bed sculptress, Tracy Emin.

As our analysis of Marcuse becomes more philosophically rigorous, we must look at key phrases in One Dimensional Man. On page 154 of the treatise Marcuse states: "..... when technics becomes the universal form of material production, it circumscribes an entire culture, it projects a historical totality — a `world'." The fact that this statement comes from the mid-60s shows this philosopher as being in advance of his era. `Technics' in the form of the computer has given those who own the means of production linked to extensive IT unprecedented power.

Yet at the same time, the internet in `cyberspace' has enabled various philosophers, who take a pro-active line to organise to oppose globalisation, to achieve solidarity in academically sound theory and in street- or jungle-wise action. When dealing with One Dimensional Man it is wise to avoid the trap of falling into political statements, so I will refer only briefly to Sub Commandant Marcos in Chiapas province of Mexico and to protesters at Seattle, Genoa and Barcelona.

Elsewhere in One Dimensional Man Marcuse rather fatalistically puts his faith for change largely in an alliance including radical intellectuals and "the outcasts and the outsiders, the exploited and persecuted of other races and other colours, the unemployed and the unemployables." This statement does of course mark a major break with classic Marxist philosophy which looked to the `immiseration' of the vast majority of working class people leading through economic necessity to world revolution. Marcuse dealt with this seeming contradiction both by concentrating more on the role of `alienated' students waiting to take their place in the modern world of technics, on people in the developing world making alliances and on workers appreciating the need for direct action when threatened, say, by `downsizing' and loss of pension rights and other benefits.

The concept of `false consciousness' was not a new one, but Marcuse convincingly stressed how the `technics' involved in advanced industrial production could not only isolate the worker as an individual, driving alone to work and sitting alone in front of a computer screen, but also cut him and his family off from good social activities by drugging him with television and various solo screen games. He could see `Dallas' and fantasise about sharing this Texan plutocratic life-style.

Marcuse writes on page 194 of One Dimensional Man.... "If philosophy is more than an occupation, it shows the grounds which made discourse a mutilated and deceptive universe.

To leave this, task to a colleague in the Sociology or Psychology Department is to make the established division of academic labour into a methodological principle."

I do not apologise for again quoting directly from One Dimensional Man a key passage. On page 199 Marcuse states: "... the therapeutic task of /philosophy would be a political task, since the established universe of ordinary language tends to coagulate into a totally manipulated and indoctrinated universe. Then politics would appear in philosophy, not as a special discipline or object of analysis, nor as a special political philosophy, but as the intent of its concepts to comprehend the unmutilated reality."

As in the case of Karl Marx, Marcuse can be simply described as a political theorist. However, he is too rigorous a philosopher to advance concepts like the inevitability of world revolution that led Marx to what Popper termed the `poverty of historicism'. Marcuse could be said to support the philosophy that people became more revolutionary, not less, when youth and relative affluence combine even for a short time. As the world now contains more middle class adolescent students than ever before in its history, some might argue that opposition to global capitalism and social exclusion is bound to grow steadily - no `end of history' here, one feels.

In conclusion, we need to look at One Dimensional Man in the context of some of Marcuse's other works, the most important of which could be said to be Eros and Civilisation. Just as One Dimensional Man looks at the failures of manipulative capitalism in the advanced West and stagnant `state capitalism' in the old Soviet Union, so Eros and Civilisation looks again at Freud and concludes that our modern society's structures are more important than our childhood experiences in the search for individual happiness. Finally, Counterrevolution and Revolt looks at how radical movements `at home' in developed countries and `abroad' in say Central America, SE Asia, Africa et al. are combated by a state where media, big corporations, politicians and the military combine to impose their way through a Repressive State Apparatus in addition to the philosophical control outlined above.

My last quote is itself a quotation from Walter Benjamin at the end of One Dimensional Man: "It is only, for the sake of those without hope that hope is given to us."

I hope you enjoyed my analysis. Any questions?

Richard Pierce


This talk was followed by considerable discussion, mostly challenging Marcuse's perspective.

Victor Suchar