Man in the “Industrial Society”:
Is Herbert Marcuse’s “Critical Theory of Society” Critical?

Yuri Zamoshkin, D. Sc. (Phil.)
and Ninel Motroshilova, C. Sc. (Phil.

Recent years have seen a sharp increase in the demand for critical theories of society in the West. This is quite understandable in view of the fact that under the impact of the scientific and technological revolution the contradictions of social development in those countries take the form of striking paradoxes that are appreciated by the public at large. We may assume that as this revolution proceeds the interest in critical theories of society will continue to increase. One particular type of the current socio-critical theory is to be found in the work of Herbert Marcuse, a social philosopher who has won extensive popularity.  [262•1

According to this theory, the industrially developed countries, particularly the USA (Marcuse acknowledges that his theory is based largely on observations of the development of this country), show a tendency to develop a condition of society which he has called “one-dimensionalism”.

The theoretical model of a “one-dimensional society” plays a key part in Marcuse’s conception, for in “one–dimensionalism” he sees the main foundation of a critical attitude to social organisation.

In the sphere of production, Marcuse sees “one–dimensionalism” [end p. 262 begin p. 263] in the merging of individual industrial units and branches in a single organism, all of whose parts are strictly subordinated to each other. This, he thinks, means that the advance to “totalisation” is decisive for the entire social climate. By “totalisation” he means the establishment of an all-embracing and integral rationally regulated system of industrial, managerial and educational institutions, all influencing each other, a system of a universal functional interaction of all the elements of social life. Technological economico-administrative “totality” and “one–dimensionalism”, as Marcuse puts it, is continued in the “one–dimensionalism” of socio-political reality. In politics the external distinctions between the basic parties conceal an inner unity; opposition becomes a force that helps to preserve the equilibrium and self-reproduction of the existing system. In following this argument, Marcuse denies that revolutionary aspirations and revolutionary potentialities are inherent in the working class of the advanced capitalist countries. In essence, he reduces the role of the working class and its organisations to the function of a “pressure group” which, so he maintains, has the effect only of reconciling inner social contradictions and restoring equilibrium in the system of the state-monopoly bureaucracy.

Marcuse sees the main feature of the “one-dimensional society” as an ability to withstand the destructive social forces and changes, to preserve continuity and stability, the ability to “contain social change”. This society and its state, he writes, have achieved a hitherto unknown “integration of opposites”.  [263•1

According to Marcuse, present-day society is also marked by an unprecedented merging of the individual with the entire social and political entity. This is no longer a simple pragmatic “adaptation” to the social milieu as a reality that is external to the individual, but an actual identification of the individual with society, an “introjection” into him of social norms and rules, their conversion into an “internal” dimension of his personality. Marcuse sees in this one of the most powerful tendencies which operates absolutely automatically and moulds “one-dimensional man” (in strict conformity with “one-dimensional society”). [end p. 263 begin p. 264]

The critical side of his conception stems from a realisation of all the highly dangerous consequences, destructive to society and the individual, created by a “one–dimensional” social condition.

Marcuse is convinced that a fundamental danger to mankind is presented by “one-dimensional” thinking in the USA and Western Europe, which often regards the condition of “one-dimensionalism” as possessing obvious advantages over previous social conditions, and sometimes even as embodying the ideals evolved by mankind through the centuries. By way of explanation, Marcuse lists all the “advantages” of the present-day level of social life achieved through the rapid development of science and technology.

The society he criticises has to its credit, according to Marcuse, the fact that it has given immeasurably expanded wealth to society as a whole, extended and deepened its power over nature, and provided it with a rational organisation of production and management and, in consequence, an enhanced material level of welfare and consumption for masses of people far greater than ever in the past. All this, Marcuse claims, produces a man with a “happy” consumer outlook, and such an outlook (the belief that it is the aim of the existing system to produce and supply material values) expresses and engenders social conformism. Specifically, it tends to justify the conformist stand. The rigid system determining the life and behaviour of the individual may deprive a person of freedom and the possibility of self-determination, but his general response will be as follows: “... there is no reason to insist on self-determination if the administered life is the comfortable and even the ‘good’ life. This is the rational and material ground for the unification of opposites for one-dimensional political behaviour.”  [264•1

In a “one-dimensional society” it is generally held that the common interest of all members of present-day society lies in defence of the status quo, consolidation and perfection of the established social order, struggle against historical alternatives that threaten that order, and in conservatism and positivism. Also predominant is the idea that only rational forces of organisation and administration operate in that society, and that the relations between [end p. 264 begin p. 265] classes, groups and individuals are based on reasonable and firm foundations. In short, to the “one-dimensional man” society as a whole seems as the “embodiment of reason”.

In a “happy” conformist consciousness, Marcuse says, we find a new inner property of social life, a new and. apparently, spontaneously and automatically emerged social reality. However, as he further emphasises, it should not be forgotten that such a reality is itself a product of deliberate administration and organisation, a result not only of the “objective order of things” but of a carefully planned and extensively implemented practice of the ideological manipulation of human consciousness and feelings, the practice of their “socialisation” and education in the spirit of the “generally accepted” and “standardised” norms and values.

Marcuse disagrees in principle with those who, like D. Bell and S. Lipset, consider that US society today demonstrates the “end of ideology”. Unlike the prophets of the “end of ideology”, Marcuse realises that ideology can exist not only in the form of conceptions directed towards a cardinal social reconstruction but also as a complex system of ideological principles, stereotypes, symbols and spiritual values designed to adapt members of society to the existing social relationships and the order of things. He pays special attention to the obvious fact that, in the United States of today, particular momentum has been acquired by that kind of ideological practice which finds expression in the activities of powerful mass media, educational institutions and so on.

The basic contradiction of our times, Marcuse holds, consists in the following: on the one hand, a society is developing with an internal, built-in and ineradicable “rationality” in the administration of things and people, a “rationality” which finds its most outstanding embodiment in “one-dimensionalism”. Unlike the apologists of the industrial society, Marcuse considers this “rational one–dimensionalism” a negative characteristic of present-day society. But what is more important, he goes on, is that, on the other hand, “... this society is irrational as a whole. Its productivity is destructive of the free development of human needs and faculties, its peace is maintained by constant threat of war; its growth dependent on the repression of the [end p. 265 begin p. 266] real possibilities for pacifying the struggle for existence—individual, national, and international.”  [266•1

What follows, Marcuse asks, from direct, open and coercive control yielding place to administrative and psychological control, and from the character of labour changing and a certain rise in the standards of living becoming discernible? Present-day society is dominated by forces over which the individual exercises no control. What follows from the fact that the majority of people in this “one-dimensional” society fail to realise this dependence? “The slaves of developed industrial civilisation are sublimated slaves, but they are slaves.”  [266•2] 

In the present-day industrial society of the USA and Western Europe, Marcuse continues, the growth of a “rational order” goes hand in hand with the progressive enslavement of man by a productive apparatus which “... ruins the lives of those who build and use this apparatus”.  [266•3]  Thus, present-day capitalist society, whose achievements Marcuse is prepared to recognise as considerable, receives by and large in his conception a distinctly expressed negative appraisal, chiefly because the development of that society distorts the individual’s will and abilities and dooms him to a slavery which is indubitable though camouflaged.

Because of all this, the balance of the “pluses” and “minuses” of a society which Marcuse himself characterises as “one-dimensional” seems to him a negative one. Moreover, he draws the conclusion that such a society must be destroyed in a revolutionary fashion and replaced by a society of a fundamentally new type. He believes in the social revolution, and this distinguishes him from many social critics of the liberal persuasion. But is Marcuse’s conception really so radical and critical in its essence and in its objective content? In this article we shall attempt to provide a reply to this question and to this question alone. The aim of this article is to help destroy illusions existing today in the minds of many Western intellectuals sincerely aspiring to take part in revolutionary activities and [end p. 266 begin p. 267] accepting at its face value the semblance of revolutionary radicalism in Marcuse’s conception.

It should be borne in mind that Marcuse does not claim to be merely a publicist voicing a spontaneous mood of radical protest. He regards himself as a theorist creating an original revolutionary system of world-outlook, a philosopher who has allegedly discovered and formulated methodological and logical principles of consistent revolutionary critical thinking. In assuming this role, he attempts to exert, and indeed does exert, a certain influence on the consciousness of a section of student youth and the intelligentsia in the United States and Western Europe. Hence a reply to the question of whether Marcuse’s “critical theory” is indeed revolutionary and consistent calls for analysis of the inner logical structure of his theoretical conceptions, the philosophical principles of his thinking, and the mechanism of the social vision that underlies the ideological models and methods of argumentation that he uses.

* * *

Having proclaimed it his mission to stimulate the young minds of today to revolutionary and critical thinking, Marcuse declares the chief enemy to be the “one-dimensional, openly apologetic consciousness”.

It should be noted that the conformist “one-dimensional” spiritual life of the present-day advanced capitalist countries, so scrupulously described and sharply criticised by Marcuse, is a real tendency that is linked with the development and consolidation of the part played by the state-monopoly bureaucracy. For instance, Marcuse shows very convincingly that, as a rule, present-day culture in the United States is in the hands of the bureaucracy, an “instrument of social conformism” and manipulation of human lives. Culture has dissolved into mass propaganda and big business, dominated either by business considerations or else the practical tasks of “total administration”. All this corrupts people, makes them forget their actual non-freedom, and evolve a “happy” consumer consciousness. According to Marcuse, culture becomes “one-dimensional” also in the sense that it ceases to be “another critical dimension of reality”. Even those works of art and literature which seem [end p. 267 begin p. 268] to be propagating the idea of behaviour involving some violation of the social order (for example, gangster films or beatnik literature) are ultimately “an affirmation rather than negation of the established order”.  [268•1]

As Marcuse sees it, the sphere of social knowledge is in ever greater measure becoming an instrument of conformism and bureaucracy. In essence, it is becoming a knowledge of facts as such, of individual functions and situations, and not of essence, a knowledge of the methods set by the bureaucracy, not of the aims of social progress. It is static and non-historical, i.e., possesses all the symptoms of “one-dimensional” thinking. This knowledge is suited only to the functional rationalisation of individual processes in the bureaucratic apparatus. It conceals the general and, so to say, “substantial” irrationality of social life. That is why Marcuse so aptly calls positivism, operationalism and one-sided functionalism the “rational theoretical form of an irrational order”. The social science now existing in the USA and Western Europe is also unacceptable, in Marcuse’s opinion, because of its apologetic, reconciliatory and pragmatically applied character.  [268•2

As we see, the criticism to which Marcuse has subjected the present-day forms of concrete social knowledge in the capitalist countries is relevant. However, it has one big shortcoming—his appraisal and understanding of the highly contradictory processes taking place in the sphere of social science under present-day capitalism are themselves “one-dimensional”.

Is it true that in these concrete historical conditions (the system of monopoly bureaucracy) economic science, sociology, and social psychology, which employ the methods of empirical investigation, in fact often serve certain practical and pragmatically utilitarian aims of the predominant social organisation? Yes, it is.

Is it true that in these concrete historical conditions there has emerged a dangerous gap and mutual alienation between socio-philosophical critical thinking that is orientated towards the humanist traditions and concrete social research? Yes, it is. But can one fully identify the inner contradictory [end p. 268 begin p. 269] logic of the development of concrete social studies—a logic which has of necessity led up to the development of the empirical methods and techniques, operational procedures and principles of functionalism—with that real and concretely historical ideological function which such studies acquire in the given social set-up, in the conditions of consolidation of the state-monopoly bureaucracy, under the influence of a definite socio-class aim? Can one simply dismiss the scientific devices and methods for the culling of representative factual material about certain concrete situations, mechanisms and phenomena in the consciousness of actually existing people, simply because such devices and methods are used by “factory inspectors”, officials and “social engineers” for purposes formulated by the bureaucracy? No, one cannot.

Marx and Lenin, who gave classical examples of revolutionary critical theory, brought together and merged a philosophical interpretation and development of the traditions of humanist thinking with scientific concretely historical, economic, sociological and socio-psychological research into the most varied and contradictory real processes and phenomena that affect the posing and the solution of the problem of man. The intellectual traditions of the teachings of Marx and Lenin have acquired a special significance today, in an epoch when the system of social relations is becoming far more complicated and social process enormously accelerated. In this epoch of mass social movements mankind faces the need to take responsible and scientifically grounded decisions. There is a growing demand for the scientific elaboration of a system of social orientation of society and the individual, in which long-term programmes providing for the qualitative refashioning and humanisation of the entire system of social relations will be blended with a detailed and accurate knowledge of the varied mechanisms which are actually functioning today, at the given stage in the development of society, in the sphere of production, consumption, politics, culture, social and individual psychology and the like, that is to say, will be blended with a knowledge of the objective possibilities and limits of social practice at a given place and over a definite period of time.

One of the ideological consequences of the one-sided development of scientific social studies in the West is the [end p. 269 begin p. 270] discrediting of sociology as a type of scientific knowledge in the eyes of those sections of society that defend the ideals of humanism and democracy. In this situation, socio-critical theories, that are (as we shall try to show) essentially a kind of “one-dimensional” reaction to the emergence of alienated forms of sociological research, are gaining popularity.

A one-sided and purely negative attitude to the methodology and practice of present-day social science may have grave consequences. Marcuse’s conception is a case in point. Socio-critical theories are usually based on a description of the society which is the object of their criticism, a description of typical social relations, the mechanisms and patterns of individual behaviour, its motives, experiences and the like. If, in describing a society, the theorist rejects, in principle, the procedures and methods of professional scientific social research, he is more often than not obliged to work on the basis of his own subjective ideas, or ideas that exist in everyday consciousness and present themselves to him as certain obvious facts.

Marcuse rejects the use of the instruments placed at his disposal by present-day scientific research that could help him to verify and assess such ideas objectively, to establish, for instance, just how representative are certain striking facts that form the basis of current ideas. It may and often does happen that ideas which the critic sees as sufficiently characteristic of the state of affairs in present-day society are in fact imbued with fetishist illusions, distorted forms of consciousness, influenced by ideological standpoints, stereotypes, illusions, sentiments, a general frame of mind typical of the conformist thinking that is rejected by the social critic. These ideas may prove to be both a condition and a result of the narrowness and “one-dimensionalism” of that thinking, a “one-dimensionalism” conditioned first and foremost by the apologetic forms of the application of social knowledge, of the social target set by the bureaucracy, and the functional inclusion of that knowledge in the ideological atmosphere of a given society.

Let us illustrate this idea, taking some of Marcuse’s theoretical constructions as examples. Marcuse is worried by the nature of the influence exerted on man and society by present-day industrial production and present-day [end p. 270 begin p. 271] technology. It is this influence which he considers the main source of the conformist “one-dimensionalism” of consciousness and the bureaucratic anti-humane forms of social organisation. Here Marcuse, in fact, accepts on trust the initial postulate of apologetic “scientist” thinking found in the schemes of Walt Rostow and other adherents of the theory of the “industrial society” which, as most people, including Marcuse, realise, is an expression of the interests of the state-monopoly bureaucracy. While criticising this theory as a typical manifestation of “one-dimensional”, and “functionalist-technicist” thinking, Marcuse in fact borrows most uncritically from, and reproduces in his conception, the logic of argument typical of Rostow and similar officials and experts in the service of the US bureaucratic apparatus.

After all, any apology for present-day bureaucracy, conscious or unconscious, is usually based on the logic of technological determinism. It regards bureaucratisation as the necessary outcome and necessary condition of the effective and rational development of present-day industrial production and economy as a whole. The state-monopoly bureaucracy realises and reflects its own activities and its own organisation first and foremost in the concepts and terms of economico-technical solvency, and it imposes that internal evaluational approach on social studies as a restrictive framework and guideline for its development.

Both the “scientist” and the average man with their “one-dimensional” thinking that adapts itself to the bureaucratic organisation of society, see this very organisation as the symbol of material well-being and economic efficiency. And so does Marcuse himself, who has so energetically voiced his indignation at “one-dimensional” thinking. Marcuse, too, regards man’s material welfare, the bureaucratic and dehumanised forms of organisation and presentday technology as a chain of cause and effect.

This mode of thinking conceals the objective links between bureaucratic and dehumanised organisation and the character of objective material relations. It also conceals the links between such organisation and the system of culture and values existing in a given society.

Karl Marx examined these links in volume III of Capital, in which he showed the internal dualism of the forms [end p. 271 begin p. 272] of the management of socialised production under conditions of capitalism. He showed that in this situation management is subordinated not only to the objective needs of the rational conduct of present-day industrial production, but also—and this is of particular importance—to the class interests of the economically predominant social groups that hold sway over things and people. The choice of alternatives in the process of control, the choice of criteria of the efficiency of management, depends on the dominant system of values, and these ultimately reflect the actual socio-class structure and the historically conditioned type of culture in a given society.

Marcuse accepts on trust and even turns into one of the fundamental postulates of his “critical” thinking an idea that is a characteristic and essential part of the theory of the “single industrial society”, the idea that there is no substantial difference between present-day capitalism and socialism. (See the interview granted by Marcuse to Le Monde’s correspondent on May 11, 1968.) This idea, which has a quite definite function in the present-day ideological struggle, plays down in the mind of the man in the street the private-ownership nature of capitalist relations and distorts the true essence of Marx’s and Lenin’s scientific socialism. It is no accident that, in Marcuse’s conception, the notion of “present-day society” is usually identified with the notion of an “advanced industrial society” (which has also been uncritically borrowed from the theories of Walt Rostow, Raymond Aron and others), while the relation towards the means of production, to property is not included among the basic characteristics of society. When Marcuse gives a generalised description of the economic organisation of present-day society, he, like the adherents of the theory of “industrial development”, takes as his initial model the organisation of production and managerial activities within the industrial enterprise of today, in which the socialisation of functions and departments is effected within the framework of a single and rationally regulated system of division of labour and interchange of activities. The political and economic foundations and characteristics of that organisation are totally ignored, which is also typical of bourgeois apologetic thinking.

Bureaucratically oriented social research has [end p. 272 begin p. 273] concentrated its attention on the problems of the management and “socialisation” of people to meet the functional needs of that management, and on a study of certain definite parameters and properties of the individual with which the operation of the mechanisms of conformism are connected.

All personal properties and mechanisms that contradict or go beyond these aims are either not subjected to professional scrutiny or are dismissed as malfunction and symptoms of “abnormal behaviour”. All the emphasis is placed on the capacity of the consciousness to be managed and brought under control. The main task has been to gather and systematise all the empirical data that have fit into the existing “workable” formulas for manipulating people. This emphasis has also had a characteristically ideological significance. The same emphasis is to be found in the system of “reading”, measuring and studying man and his social properties and qualities. It is this system which Marcuse has rightly enough dubbed “one-dimensional”, a system that glosses over the actual contradictions and the duality in the nature of capitalist society.

And yet, at the same time Marcuse accepts on trust the “one-dimensional” picture of present-day society and man’s status in it; he agrees with the widespread idea that in this society only the one all-inclusive and omnipotent trend towards conformism is predominant, and that consciousness is becoming more and more controlled. It should also be remembered that in a number of Western countries, especially in the United States, social studies oriented by manipulation and historically linked with the organisation of mass commercial publicity, have focussed attention on the personality of man as consumer and buyer, on the study of the mechanisms that encourage buying and consuming (compensatory mechanisms, social prestige motives, and so on), and on the possibility of controlling man’s consumer urges, stimulating them and achieving a definite psychological effect of their satisfaction.

These specific utilitarian-pragmatic forms of approach to problems of consumption on the part of bodies that allocate money for research, and on the part of researchers, have been ideologically justified by references to the growth of mass production of consumer goods, the economic necessity for maintaining high industrial growth rates, and the like. [end p. 273 begin p. 274]

A one-sided emphasis on the consumer expectations and habits of the individual, an emphasis which determines the nature of the working principles of the professional researcher, is thus internally linked with a specific ideological attitude to the modern man, with ideologically “one–dimensional” forms of seeing and interpreting his essence.

Marcuse, for all his great concern over the development of this consumer psychology and consumer attitude towards life, has nevertheless been uncritical in his perception of these “one-dimensional” forms of outlook. He has taken the self-satisfied and “optimistic” ideology of mass commercial publicity far too seriously. This has led to his theory being dominated by the “one-dimensional” idea of the developed industrial society of today, which, he alleges, is turning perfectly naturally (simply by virtue of its advancement) into a “consumer” society. And from this comes the one-sided, “one-dimensional” picture of the typical individual of that society—Homo consumens, with his satisfied or even “happy” consciousness.

What has actually happened is that the problem of the sources of poverty and of the sharp social contrasts in the standards of living in the countries of developed capitalism has remained beyond the field of vision of Marcuse’s “critical thinking”. The dialectics of requirements in response to the spiritual development of the individual has also escaped his notice. Also “one-dimensionally” interpreted are the obvious facts of public dissatisfaction with the level of consumption, which does not always indicate a narrow consumer attitude towards the world and very often springs from the perfectly legitimate needs of the toiling masses, needs that must be included in any programme of practical and theoretical humanism.

The primary working model used in the theory of structural-functional analysis evolved in the USA and in the research practice based on that theory is the “value–normative” model of society, which represents society as a system of the most generally accepted and predominant values and norms expressed in human expectations and character as objectivised in the institutions and forms of social action. This model was designed to represent society as an entity, but an entity of a special kind, one that is primarily to be regarded through the prism of mechanisms that are [end p. 274 begin p. 275] working towards preservation of its internal relative stability.

This model was, indeed, built in one definite “dimension”. It was unable to express, and certainly unable to interpret, the inner dialectics of social being and consciousness, or to explain the internal conflicts in the material basis of society that are characteristic of certain stages of its development and manifest themselves most clearly in a society where there are classes with clashing interests. This model could never claim to reveal the objective logic of the transition of certain social systems into others, the logic of the unfolding of internal contradictions that work against the integration and reproduction of the capitalist social system and engender social revolutions.

Thus, a one-sided emphasis on mechanisms inducing ideological uniformity, as recorded by a functionalist valuenormative model, is reinforced by a dominant vision of present-day capitalist society as a “one-dimensional totality” in which any social opposites and conflicts can be reconciled and eradicated by a functionally rational organisation of the administrative apparatus and through manipulation of the human mind, emotions and desires.

Marcuse condemns this “one-dimensional totality” as incompatible with the free development of the human personality, individual capacities and initiatives. He calls it a camouflaged form of slavery. However, he has not been able to overcome the ideological “one-dimensionalism” in his own perception of the society around him, a “one–dimensionalism” which is also characteristic of one-sidedly functionalist and apologetic thinking. Unlike the direct apologists, however, Marcuse places a minus sign in front of that “one-dimensional” characteristic. His “social totality”, which is one-dimensionally interpreted and uncritically accepted as the only reality, is just as one-dimensionally and totally rejected.

Though Marcuse has declared himself the heir of classical German philosophy and has called for a transition from the purely positivist mode of thinking to dialectical thinking, he does not understand the essence of dialectics as the algebra of revolutionary criticism. One might well apply to him Karl Marx’s apt characteristic of Proudhon: in reading Hegel he went no further than simple negation. [end p. 275 begin p. 276]

In Marcuse’s conception, criticism is emotionally axiological and is divorced from contradictory and multi–dimensional reality; it ignores the inner development of social science and systematic sociological, historical, economic and socio-psychological research into the manifold social processes and nexuses of our time. It is incapable of integrating in theory and interpreting from the standpoint of dialectics the actual relationship and the struggle of different contradictory antagonistic trends in the sphere of presentday material production, its social organisation, social and class structure and human consciousness and behaviour; it is incapable of revealing and accurately appraising the actual trends which already are (or tomorrow may become) a basis and nutrient medium for the practical social movements that are making the real, and not illusory, choices in present-day history.

Marcuse’s conception offers a typical example of consciousness which, while critical in its subjective aspirations, fails to reappraise the false fetishes characteristic of the commonplace ideological consciousness that is predominant in the society it rejects. A mode of thinking that seems to be orientated towards a critical attitude to reality is, in fact, internally fettered by an ideologically commonplace and non-critical schematism. Marcuse accepts as reality a scheme of things that has been stripped of its actual and objective dialectical contradictions; he then furiously attacks this scheme, this model of society which has been idealised, flattened out by the “one-dimensional” consciousness.

The distinction between the apologetics of other sociologists and the “criticism” in Marcuse’s writings is a distinction in the value he attaches (acceptance or rejection) to a social situation, registered and considered by a non-dialectical method similar in principle to that of the apologists.

A one-dimensional approach to the reality of today and to the trends in its development makes Marcuse incapable of seeing any possibility of progressing from the actual to the desired. The desired is, therefore, presented only as a mechanical and complete negation of the actual. This opposite condition, presented as ideal, is simply asserted and advocated, but without any research into the objective processes and possibilities of the transition to that opposite state, transition as a natural historical process. [end p. 276 begin p. 277]

Marcuse considers himself a socialist, but there is no trace in his writings of any systematic or logically substantiated exposition of a programme of socialist transformations. The descriptions of the socialist ideal given in his writings are vague and indeterminate in the extreme; as a rule, they are presented on an abstract anthropological plane. The economic or structurally organisational problems of socialism are, in essence, either not raised at all or relegated to the background. Much is said (again in a general way) of a “fundamental change in the direction of technological progress”, “the total reconstruction of the technological apparatus”, “the elimination of technological rationality” and the like. Marcuse does not deny that socialism calls for a high level of technological development, but he does not know, and admits to not knowing, how that development differs from the current process usually designated as the “scientific and technological revolution”. He also admits his inability to reply to the question of which internal trends and potentialities of present-day production necessarily pave the way for the transition to socialism.

Marcuse realises—and this is noteworthy—that the general conceptions referring to cardinal social changes must be based on a scientific analysis of the trends of social development that already exist today, that are emerging within the framework of our times and are preparing those social changes. Speaking of the criteria for the evaluation and choice of various historical projects, he is quite right in saying: “These criteria must refer to the manner in which a historical project realises given possibilities—not formal possibilities but those involving the modes of human existence.”  [277•1] This correct idea, however, is only given lip-service and is constantly suppressed by habits of “one–dimensional” and basically metaphysical utopian thinking. In essence, Marcuse can only appeal to such evaluational concepts and “evaluational universalia” as “Freedom”, “Beauty”, “Happiness” and the like. At the same time, he is partially aware of the utopianism of any absolutisation of universalia as such, and their divorce from truly scientific and dialectical social analysis.

He dreams of the social, socialist revolution, but at the [end p. 277 begin p. 278] same time acknowledges (and this is implied in various forms in all his main writings of late) that he does not discern in the world of today any social forces that could be agents of a radical and genuinely socialist transformation of society. “Socialist theory, no matter how true, can neither prescribe nor predict the future agents of a historical transformation,” he wrote in 1966.  [278•1]

Marcuse’s disbelief in the revolutionary possibilities of the proletariat in the industrially advanced capitalist countries is common knowledge. Today, however, he is often regarded as one who sings the praises of the “revolutionary energy” and the “revolutionary aspirations” of radically-minded students and intellectuals.

Indeed, Marcuse believes that the basic forces most clearly opposed to the corporate capitalism of today are, on the one hand, what he calls the “middle-class intellectuals”, especially the students, and on the other hand, the oppressed ghetto population: the social groups and ethnic minorities that make up the lower depths of bourgeois society. While hailing the social rebelliousness of these groups, Marcuse acknowledges (and this must be emphasised), first, that they form a minority of the population and, second, that none of these groups can provide the “human basis” of social process in present-day production. Hence, he draws the conclusion that, by themselves, these forces of opposition cannot be regarded as “historical agents of radical change”.  [278•2] In Marcuse’s opinion, the student movement and ghetto disturbances can at best result in the disintegration of existing society.

Although, in his Le Monde interview of May 11, 1968, Marcuse strenuously denied being a “defeatist”, his socio-critical theory can, objectively speaking, in no way evoke confidence and hope of victory in the hearts and minds of people who are today coming out actively for the revolutionary creation of a socialist society and the achievement of the ideals of socialist democracy and socialist humanism. His theory provides no really scientific substantiation of the prospects of radical social reform, and, if regarded objectively, it becomes a Utopia. It is no accident that Marcuse [end p. 278 begin p. 279] concludes his main book with the following words: “The critical theory of society possesses no concepts which could bridge the gap between the present and its future; holding no promise and showing no success, it remains negative. Thus it wants to remain loyal to those who, without hope, have given and give their life to the great Refusal.”  [279•1

In dissociating himself from direct methods of defence of the capitalist system, and at the same time frankly voicing his disbelief in the victory of the progressive forces in the struggle against that system, thereby discouraging those who are engaged in that struggle in deed, not in word, Herbert Marcuse objectively leads his theory to its perfectly logical conclusion. Thinking that claims to be a revolutionary critical force leads merely to naively romantic phraseology or to helplessly speculative moralising.

In Marcuse’s theory the critical rejection of present-day capitalist society has no real theoretical, methodological foundation or scientific basis. His criticism reaches its highest pitch only in its registration of the morbid sensations of the commonplace and undeveloped consciousness of various groups who are opposed to the state-monopoly bureaucracy. Marcuse merely gives a theoretical twist to this spontaneous process, which is in many respects anarchoindividualistic. If one disregards the “evaluational” condemnation of capitalism in Marcuse’s doctrine, all that remains is a depiction of capitalist society which repeats many stereotypes of present-day ideological apologetics and is a “critically framed positivism”, “positivism in reverse”. In Herbert Marcuse’s conception, one-dimensional thinking fights itself. Capitalism is rejected on the basis of present-day bourgeois fetishist consciousness.

* * *


[262•1]   Marcuse’s conception is expounded in his book One-Dimensional Man. Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (New York, 1964), which has come out in many editions and has been translated into many languages, in his article “Socialist Humanism”, edited by E. Fromm (New York, 1966) and also in the report “A Revision of the Conception of Revolution” at the UNESCO symposium dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx (Paris, May 1968).

[263•1]   H. Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, p. XII.

[264•1]   H. Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, p. 49.

[266•1]   H. Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, pp. IX-X.

[266•2]   Ibid., p. 32.

[266•3]   Ibid., p. 144.

[268•1]   H. Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, p. 59.

[268•2]   Ibid., pp. 8, 9, 17, 97, 107, and elsewhere.

[277•1]   H. Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, p. 219.

[278•1]   H. Marcuse, Socialist Humanism, New York, 1966, p. 117.

[278•2]   See the official text of his address to a UNESCO symposium in May 1968.

[279•1]   H. Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, p. 258.

SOURCE: Zamoshkin, Yuri; Motroshilova, Ninel. ‘Man in the “Industrial Society”: Is Herbert Marcuse’s “Critical Theory of Society” Critical?’, in The Scientific and Technological Revolution: Social Effects and Prospects, edited by Robert Daglish (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1972), pp. 262-279.

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