Marcuse

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Eros and Civilization, 'Political Preface' 1966

In the political preface to Eros and Civilization, Marcuse claims that the form of sixties society is organized around the maintenance of one elite strata of the population. This collection of affluent individuals dominates the rest of society, but is able to disguise the control it wields by hiding behind the ideological apparatus of democracy. By allowing the masses to participate in their own domination (i.e. by allowing them to choose their masters, and to choose the government which will govern them), and by rewarding them with an easy and comfortable set of living conditions, the affluent strata deceives them into believing they are 'free'. This does not constitute true freedom, Marcuse argues, as ultimately it comes with a human cost. This is plainly seen amongst the oppressed minorities, who are proof of the whole sorry social system that perpetuates and preserves the status quo.

This social system, says Marcuse, is driven by a cycle of production, consumption and destruction. In other words, by the capitalist cycle. He identifies capitalism as the 'scientific management' of human beings' instinctual needs. It is thus that the current system converts the products of capitalism into 'objects of the libido'. This cycle, Marcuse argues, results from an alliance between 'freedom' and remunerated servitude. The consequence of this alliance is that there is an absence of revolutionary activity, because those who believe they are free do not think they need liberating, and the oppressed minority are "not strong enough to liberate themselves" (xv). Quoting Marx, Marcuse points out that only those who have not been ensnared by the benefits of capitalism could ever bring about true liberation. He consequently identifies the less developed countries as a site where a truly free society might exist, where science and technology could be harnessed according to, and in proportion with man's vital needs. This end to exploitation and to surplus productivity would, in Marcuse's opinion, actually represent a higher stage of human development.

Marcuse cites the trend for guerrilla warfare as a form of resistance, as the biological reaction to the age of technology. In other words, it is symptomatic of the noneconomic human needs that are not being fulfilled, and the increasing desire to "live life as an end in itself".

Most interestingly, Marcuse is also convinced that the advancement of technology (which is necessary within the current system, to fulfil the requirements of affluent society) will ultimately pose a threat to the current system itself. This is because the capitalist cycle that our social system wishes to perpetuate is built upon the organization of human labour; but this type of labour will become increasingly redundant as industry becomes automated. Marcuse predicts that this will result in intellectual skills becoming the new currency upon which the current system will seek to perpetuate itself, and consequently, he urges "scientists, mathematicians, technicians" to resist any such courtship by the dominant strata. Instead, they should join and fight with those young people who instinctually reject society as it is, and fight the political fight.


Two theories sprung to mind as i read this text (which I'm sure my MAPH colleagues will recognize - sorry guys!): Althusser's ISAs (Ideological State Apparatuses) in his essay "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses..", and the first chapter of Zizek's Sublime Object of Ideology.

For Althusser, anything from cinema, to music, to television, to schools represents an Ideological State Apparatus. These institutions cram citizens with the ruling ideology, though the masses are unaware of the fact they are being inculcated by the dominant strata of society - they believe that these environments represent neutral ground. Does this make the Cultural activities trophied by the African American community durong this period actually more powerful than the Black Panthers gave them credit for? Or were they simply contributiong to the perpetuation of the status quo/the ruling ideology?

Zizek, meanwhile, argues that it will always be necessary for society to have what Marcuse identifies as the 'oppressed minoroty'; that is, he argues that it is formally necessary that society EXCLUDE some one, so that the rest of society might feel like a coherent whole. So should Marcuse just accept that society will always have its vicitim?

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