On the Topicality of Selected Aspects of Herbert Marcuse's Works 
Christian Fuchs

(German Version/Deutsche Version: Zur Aktualität ausgewählter Aspekte des Werks Herbert Marcuses)


The goal of this work is the discussion of selected aspects of the works of Herbert Marcuse in reference to postfordist, neo-liberal and information-societal capitalism. Whereas the material conditions we have reached would make an immediate transition into the realm of freedom possible, the one-dimensional society forestalls qualitative social change in new ways. One-dimensional society still produces one-dimensional, false consciousness and false needs. In this situation of global crisis, Marcuse’s dialectical concepts of technology, democracy and culture and his dialectic of liberation are decisive. Whereas liberation seems to become subjectively almost impossible, it would objectively be obvious. Marcuse’s utopian thinking and his philosophy of practice are essentially important in such a situation. The search for potentially revolutionary subjects and the strengthening of their self-organisation are tasks of the dialectical unity of theory and practice. One of Marcuse’s most important theses is still true: it says that we “vacillate throughout between two contradictory hypotheses: (1) that advanced industrial society is capable of containing qualitative change for the foreseeable future; (2) that forces and tendencies exist which may break this containment and explode the society. I do not think that a clear answer can be given” (Marcuse 1964: xlvii).


Introduction: Theory and Practice

Technology and Utopia

Revolutionary Subject

Democracy and Fascism





Nowadays, the complex unity of theory and practice is being reduced by leftist to one of the two elements quite commonly. Either they believe that theory is not necessary because they see emancipatory politics as something solely practical, or they say that it is pointless to translate theory into practice. Both approaches are a little bit short-sighted. A necessary pre-conditon for political practice is a theory which design practice and points out the possibilities for political action. On the other hand, theory remains useless if it does not enter into specific social struggles.

Herbert Marcuse has correctly identified the relationship of theory and practice as a dialectical one. Critical practical action has to know to what it is referring, what it wants to change and towards which goals a sublating movement can lead to. Theory that does not point out the historical situation and possibilities, is not useful for an emancipatory practice.

Marcuse pointed out that a theory that does not come along with practical aspects of capitalism can not contribute to practical aspects of emancipation (Marcse 1972: 40). A critical theory of society can point out the development of existing social relationships and how they can be changed. Critical theory can line out the possibilities of change in a certain historical situation. It also encompasses stimulations of phantasy because imagination involves a high degree of autonomy in an unfree world. It can go beyond the existing totality and anticipate future developments (Marcuse 1937a: 122). Critical theory should line out how the possibilities of social change and emancipation are transforming. It has an anticipating, critical quality, it projects and design possible types of practice. Critical theory points out general aspects in specific ones, it names and characterices aspects of existing society and tendencies that could be blocked in practical actions (Marcuse 1975: 143).

Theory is necessary in order to understand the world we live in – it has to understand what the world has done to man and what it can do to man (Marcuse 1964: 183). The language employed by critical theory differs from the one used in daily life, because the latter is being coined by a dominating, one-dimensional language that does not describe complex relationships adequately (ibid.: p. 207f). By uncovering the rationality of irrationality that governs society, critical theory relates to practical aspects (ibid.: 238).

In the current phase of capitalism which is characterised by social relationships that become more and more precarious, but in which the material preconditions of liberation are more developed than ever and people are becoming more and more ignorant of the possibilities posed, the connecting of theory and practice is very important. The Critical Theory of Herbert Marcuse has not lost its topicality by the grand crisis of society which is also a crisis of the left and of Marxism. On the contrary, the collapse of the soviet-system has shown that capitalism is not the better alternative, that state-“socialism” as well as the western types of capitalism are no sustainable types of society. This is shown clearly by the  widening of the global problems. The thinking of Marcuse (as well as the one of Marx) is very important in this situation of crisis in order to transform society in such a way that humane paths of development can be guaranteed. I want to point out the topicality of four aspects of Marcuses’ thinking that are personally very relevant to me: 1. Technology and utopia, 2. Revolutionary subject, 3. Democracy and fascism, 4. Culture. There would be further aspect, but I can not consider them here in detail.

1. Technology and Utopia

Generally speaking, Marcuse considers technology as entities created by humans that change nature (Marcuse 1961: 49). In capitalism, technology is an end in itself, life as a purpose is not important, life is becoming some type of means. Life is subordinated to labor. Hence productivity is an end in itself and leads to self-destruction; destructive forces are set free, not only by mass weapons of destruction, but also by suppressive forces within society (Marcuse 1961: 44).

I personally consider technology as a generally organised unity of means, procedures, knowledge, abilities and processes that are necessary in order to achieve defined goals. Technology is part of the antagonisms of capitalism and hence it also contributes to the existence of these antagonisms. The relationship of means and ends has been reversed in modern society: Ends are not identified which shall be achieved by making use of technology, but technology has become an end in itself. Its main purpose nowadays as a specific means of production is the effective organisation of capital accumulation. Technology does not serve humankind in order to make its existence easier by mediating the metabolism between man and nature, it serves capital in order to exploit labor. It is a means for producing surplus value. Hence it is affirmative technology. An antagonism is constituted by the fact that generally speaking technology makes the existence of man easier, but in capitalism it is a means of domination and exploitation that contributes to the destruction of mankind and nature. By applying technology, the rate of surplus value is increased by reducing the relative amount of necessary labour. Technology deporsonalises domination, it steps in between the relationship of capitalist and worker. Wage laborers are an appendage to fixed capital. On the one hand in a technological sense, because the means of production can not be operated by single individuals; they can only be operated in the framework of the division of labour (separation of producer and means of production). Wage laborers are – as poined out by Marx – free in a double sense. This also refers to the fact that the means of production are not owned by the immediate producers. On the other hand this appendage also can be seen in a social sense because the means of labour confront the laborers in the form of capital.

Marcuse had very similar ideas: Technology in capitalism means a special type of social control for him. These controls have totalitarian tendencies. Hence no neutrality of technology can be claimed. The mass media coin and manipulate consciousness. In capitalism, technology means social control and domination. The technological apparatuses determine social needs, abilities, job relationships and attitudes – and hence the types of social control and coherence (Marcuse 1961: 45).

Marcuse says that the negative aspects of automation dominate: „In the present situation, the negative features of automation are predominant: speed-up, technological unemployment, strengthening of the position of management, increasing impotence and resignation on the part of the workers. The chances of promotion decline as management prefers engineers and college graduates” (Marcuse 1964: 29f). The technologies of production change consciousness in specific ways. The fixing of labor forces to automated and semi-automated reactions is a „exhausting, stupefying, inhuman slavery” (Marcuse 1964: 25). The capitalist employment of technology can be summarised by the formula: technological progress = more wealth of society = more slavery (Marcuse 1972: 13). Marcuse says that the existing means and possibilities of control have been joined by a new momentum that is connected with the standards of technological progress, with computerisation, the technological perfection of gathering data and with surveillance (Marcuse 1972: 13).

He describes a tendency of workers being really interested in the corporations they work in. 30 years later this “participation of the workforce” is termed participative management and has become one of the most important elements of the theory of management. In fact, it does not mean a humanisation of work, rather new ideological mechanisms that shall guarantee capital accumulation and end the crisis of capital by integrating the workforce psychologically.

Marcuse says that by automation the amount of living labor power that is necessary decreases, living labor transforms itself into dead labour. Hence there is a tendency of the law of value coming to an end. This also applies for the concepts of surplus value and the organic composition of capital. This means that by the decrease of industrial labor the classical concepts of the labor theory of value are less applicable. On the one hand we are witnessing the sublation of labor, on the other hand labor is the source of profit. Marcuse argues that this antagonism causes technological unemployment and poverty.

Max Horkheimer (1946) spoke about instrumental reason, Herbert Marcuse referred to the same phenomena as technological rationality. This describes the fact that in the advanced industrial society something that is not obvious, seems to be self-evident. Certain reactions are automatised, they are no longer questioned. Marcuse argues that the important aspects of these actions are that they are not only instrumental, they also seem to be very reasonable (Marcuse 1941: 293). These effects which also relate to the antagonisms of technological applications have been described by Marcuse in his One-Dimensional Man and many other of his writing. He pointed out in his analyses of German fascism, that technological rationality is also characteristic of fascism. He says that the German pragmatic sees everything – also the totalitarian regime –  from the aspect of his own material advantages. He has adapted his thinking, feelings and actions to the technological rationality of National-Socialism (Marcuse 1942: 25).

In German fascism, Marcuse argues, people are appendages to the instruments of production, destruction and communication, although they act with a high degree of personal initiative, spontanity and personality. Their actions are adapted to the operation of this machine. The moral of combat has become a part of technology, the Nazi-system also applies mental technologies (see Marcuse 1942: 47f). In National-Socialism all values, patterns of thinking and acting are determined by the necessity of the functioning of the machinery of production, destruction and domination (ibid.: 48).

Society and technology are interrelated. Depending on how this relationship is being described, different positions can be identified: If the emhasis is on technology determining society, we can speak of a technological determinism. Such positions often hold that the effects caused by the application of technology result from technology as it is. If the main emphesis is on the genesis of technology (=the process of developing new technologies) in such a way that society determines the application and the resulting consequences of  technology,we can speak of social constructivism (see e.g. Bruno Latour 1987). Such positions argue that the genesis of technology is a social process and that technology is a social construction. They further hold that the social consequences of technological applications are bulit into the technologies during the process of construction. Hence such positions argue that a certain technology must result in specific consequences. Maybe, such approaches overlook that the application of technology can gather momentum and that certain aspects can not be forseen. And one also surely can not generally conclude that all technologies must have certain consequences that are well-known in advance.

Besides technological determinism and social constructivism there is also a dialectical position: Society and technology are related dialectically, there are interrelationships and mutual dependencies. On a microscopic level (concerning the elements of a system), technology can be seen as a sub system of society. Society influences technology in such a way that it can design technologies and decide how they should be applied. There is also a downward causation, technology influences society, and so social consequences of the application of technology emerge. On the one level, we have the emergence of social consequences, on the other the emergence of new technologies and new qualities of existing technologies. The consequencs can not be fully foreseen, quite often there are unwanted effects. Both chance and necessity show their effects. The application of technology can cause social problems as emergent phenomena of society.

Such a dialectical methodology enables us to take into account the interrelationships of technology and society in a non-reductionist manner. The genesis of technology as well as the consequences of technology are considered. Technological determinism is a reductionistic methodology, it reduces social problems to technological aspects of society. Social constructivism argues projectively, it projects social processes and actions onto technology by claiming that the consequences of technology can already be found in technology itself. Dialectical methodologies on the contrary hold that antagonisms are important. They do not say: either this or that, but: both at the same time. I.e.: Technology influences society and society influences technology. Another distinction that should be made is the one between technological pessimism and technological optimisms: The former interprets the influence of society on technology (and vice versa) very positively, the latter mainly stresses negative consequences of technology. Again a dialectical position is the best one, one that judges technology by analysing its embededness into society.

According to Herbert Marcuse, technology is not – as argued e.g. by Max Weber and Arnold Gehlen – value-free. In capitalist society, which has taken on totalitarian aspects – technology can not be separated from its use. Marcuse considers technological society to be a system of domination that “operates already in the concept and construction of techniques” (Marcuse 1964: S. xlviii). At some points in Marcuses’ works one could get the imagination that he sees technology itself as domination, not domination as a social relationship which makes use of technology. E.g. he says that not only the usage of technology is domination, but also that technology is domination over nature and humans (Marcuse 1965b: 179).

Such shortcomings are only an exception from the rule in his works. Generally Marcuse argues that technology is a dialectial category, hence that it depends on its embededness into society and the social framework of its usage. But due to such passages as just mentioned, Marcuse was sometimes put in line with technological determinists such as Spengler, Schelsky, Gehlen, Freyer, Ellul, Heidegger, Jünger, Habermas or Mumford. But in fact, Marcuse criticised the bourgeoise technological pessimists many times. He e.g. said that all programs with anti-technological character serve those who see human needs as a side-product of the valorisation  of technology. The enemies of technology would work into the hands of the terrorist technocracy. Philosophies of a simple life would be needed to make people suspicious about liberation and its possible instruments (Marcuse 1941: 315f).

When Marcuse says, that domination is a technology (Marcuse 1964: 158), he does not mean it in a technological-determinist manner, but he wants to express that besides the execution of domination with the help of technology it can be said that the execution of power also can be seen as an aspect of technology as a broad concept in the sense of a social-technology (Sozialtechnologie). At another instance Marcuse says: “Technology as such cannot be isolated from the use to which it is put” (Marcuse 1964: xlviii). This also outlines his refusal of technological determinism.

For Marcuse, technology as such does neither mean domination, nor liberation, nor neutrality. He sees liberation as a social process which needs a certain level of development of the produvtive forces, but which can only be established socially and during the course of social struggles. He says that the liberating aspects of technology are not part of technological progress as such, they presuppose social changes which also refer to the fundamental economic institutions and relationships (Marcuse 1957: 238).

Marcuse’s concept of technology is a dialectical one: On the one side he supposes that technology is used in capitalism in such a way that people are forced into line and become powerless. A libertarian use of technology does not seem possible for him under such circumstances. But if post-capitalist relationships could be established, Marcuse argues, certain technologies could be used in order to reduce social necessary labor to a minimum und to give a maximum of freedom and self-determination to the individuals. In such a case technology would not mean gleichschaltung, manipulation and the end of individuality, but the possibility of wealth for all and of an “existence in free time on the basis of fulfilled vital needs” (Marcuse 1964: 231).

Marcuse again and again points out that certain developments are a necessary foundation for the historical level of mankind where it is possible to make use of technology in order to establish a world of freedom – one without exploitation, misery and fear (Marcuse 1965a: 123), a technological and natural environment that is not dominated by violence, ugliness, limitedness and brutality (Marcuse 1972: 12). But it is also possible, Marcuse argues, that technological developments lead to standardisation of thinking and acting, technological rationality, one-dimensional and false consciousness and false needs. He stresses this ambivalence which concerns modern technologies and that fundamental social change does not necessarily take place. He e.g. says that he wants to stress that he does not (yet) judge technological developments, they could either be progressive and humanising or regressive and destructing (1966b: 172). Another time he writes that technology can put forward authoritaritiveness as well as freedom, lack as well as affluence, hard labor as well as its abolishment (Marcuse 1941: 286). Not technology and the machine are leverages of suppression for Marcuse, but the existence of masters who determine the amount, life time, power and importance of machines as well as the role they play in life.

Today, if we take a look at sociology of technology, we on the one hand find very optimistic views concerning technology which argue that the new technologies will lead to global wealth and freedom. On the other hand there are very pessimistic argumentations, as for example in radical- or eco-feminism, which see modern technology as inherently patriarchal, in-humane, rascist and even fascist. Hence it is argued that we should return to a simpler type of society that relies on subsistence production. This clearly would result in a society that is dominated by hard work. Marcuse would not have qualified such a society as a free one, even if there are no capitalists in it, because freedom also means the abolishment of hard work and a maximum of free time. Both argumentations seem to be a little bit short-sighted, they do not conceive the relationship of society and technology dialectically.

On the contrary, we find sociologies of technologies as the ones of Marcuse or Marx which are neither very optimistic, nor very pessimistic, but which assume that social problems are somehow connected with technological progress, but that this is not caused by technology as such. The causes are the capitalist usage of technology and the antagonisms of capitalism. Marx pointed out that it is not the machinery as such that causes social problems such as unemployment. He said that machinery would be “be the most powerful means for increasing the productiveness of labour — i.e., for shortening the working-time”[1] (Marx 1867: 425). Marx sees this as a very positive aspect of technology, and hence he argues that an end should and can be put to wage labour: “In fact, the realm of freedom actually begins only where labour which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of actual material production” (Marx 1894: 828)

Marx sees technological determinism as a means of bourgeois thinkers in order to persuade the workers that their opponent is not capital as a social relationship, but technology as such.

“The contradictions and antagonisms inseparable from the capitalist employment of machinery, do not exist, they say, since they do not arise out of machinery, as such, but out of its capitalist employment! Since therefore machinery, considered alone, shortens the hours of labour, but, when in the service of capital, lengthens them; since in itself it lightens labour, but when employed by capital, heightens the intensity of labour; since in itself it is a victory of man over the forces of Nature, but in the hands of capital, makes man the slave of those forces; since in itself it increases the wealth of the producers, but in the hands of capital, makes them paupers-for all these reasons and others besides, says the bourgeois economist without more ado, it is clear as noon-day that all these contradictions are a mere semblance of the reality, and that, as a matter of fact, they have neither an actual nor a theoretical existence. Thus he saves himself from all further puzzling of the brain, and what is more, implicitly declares his opponent to be stupid enough to contend against, not the capitalistic employment of machinery, but machinery itself“ (Marx 1867: 465).

Marx’ concept of technology is a dialectical one: He generally sees technology as a means that simplifies the existence of man, that gives him more time and space for the free development of individuality and for self-determination. In a free-society automation and technological progress would create well-rounded individuals that live in a society “where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic” (Marx/Engels 1845/46: 33).

But the capitalist usage of technology would in fact cause contrary effects: lengthening of the labor day, unemployment and poverty. Marx is neither a technological optimist, nor pessimist. He argues that machinery can be used in a positive as well as in a negative sense. But this would depend on the social context, especially on the economic system. What is relevant and decisive is the embededness of technology into society. Marx can not image positive aspects of technology in capitalism. He both stresses the consequences of the capitalist usage of technology as well as the social framework which is very important for the usage of technology and its effects on society.

The topicality of a dialectical concept of technology that stands in the traditions of Marcuse and Marx can also be seen in the context of the rise of computer-technologies and modern information and communication technologies (ICT). Hence an assessment of these technologies should be ambivalent. One the one hand they lead to the restructuration, de-centralisation and flexibilisation of capitalism, they mediate de-realisation, simulation and virtualisation of reality, they maximize the potential of destruction of war technology, they produce antagonisms and contribute to the widening of the global problems, they promote unemployment, dequalification, surveillance, they are a medium and result of rationalisation and economic globalisation and hence they are entangled into the social problems that result from these phenomena; they mediate the restructuration of corporations in space and time and are mainly applied in order to maximize profit. Social inequalities are reflected in cyberspace. But on the other hand, new media also make the virtual construction of identities possible, they can simplify the access to and the distribution of information, they make co-operation and communication easier, they can mediate cultural interchange and a cultural unity in diversity, they reduce the social necessary labor and they can promote mental activities. Modern technologies are subject to a dialectic that has already been described by Karl Marx and Herbert Marcuse. Both argue that it is not all about abolishing technology, but that a humane and sustainable usage of technology is possible (if the current social relationships are radically changed). Of course this does not apply e.g. for military technology, a liberated society would have to get rid of those technologies that form destructive forces. But this does not apply to all computer technologies (in contrast to nuclear technology), because it is the military application of these technology that results in destructive forces. Alternative usages of computer technologies could make a pacified existence possible that goes beyond material and psychological shortages. The struggle for existence could come to an end. All of this would presuppose a new type of society.

Concerning the usage of modern media in social struggles, the situation is also ambivalent: On the one hand we have a mass-mediated production and simulation of hyper-reality that generates new meanings by de-contextualising symbols and pictures and arranging these symbols as a new whole. This new whole has new meanings which can manipulate and direct public opinion in certain ways. In this context the thesis of cultural industry – that has been formulated by Marcuse, Adorno and Horkheimer and which says that the cultural industry produces false, consciousness, one-dimensional mass consciousness (Marcuse 1964) and instrumental reason (Horkheimer 1946) – is true. New technologies are applied functionally in these ways. On the other hand there is the possibility for protest movements to make use of new media as means of supporting their self-organisation (see Fuchs 2001). New technologies reflect social relationships of domination, nonetheless protest movements can make use of them. Protest in real life can be supported by a virtual culture of protest and a technologically mediated optimisation of political structures of self-organisation.

ICT as the Internet have mediated important transformations of capitalism. Computer technologies can be seen as medium and result of rationalisation: Capitalism needs a permanent increase of productivity. Hence an ever increasing rationalisation is necessary. Computer technology is medium and result of rationalisation and of the re-structuring of capitalism. Its genesis is a logical result of the development of the capitalist mode of production. At the same time it is medium of the substition of human labor power by machines. A logical consequence is unemployment. The economic diffusion of computer technology is also related to the crisis of fordism. As a reaction to the relative fall of the profit rates, computerisation and automation have been put forward in order to save labor costs and to increase the rates of profit again.

Technological artefacts reflect social relationships of domination and property. This also applies to the Internet. The access to cyberspace demands financial resources for telephone, modem, computer, Internet Service provider etc., but at the same time we are witnessing an increasing social gap. Only 2-3% of the world population have access to the Net, these are mainly white, male US-americans. So what we have is the reflection of social dichotomies concerning class, gender, origin, age and qualification. There is no “free” access , the call for access for all is technologically deterministic and does not take into account that this would have to include a radical transformation of the capitalist world system. Africa poses about 12% of the world population, but only has about 2% of all telephone connections. On average there are less than 2 telephone connections per 1000 inhabitants in Africa. The Internet is mainly a means of realising profit, it has been transformed from a military technology (ARPA-Net) to a means of restructuring and accelerating business processes, it is a location of capital accumulation and a means of advertising that encompasses interactive and multimedia dimensions. Politics is a minority field in the World Wide Web, at maximum 1-2% of all websites have political contents, the main contents on the Net are sex and commerce. 

Nonetheless, modern ICT can support self-organising political movements. Global networking and the acceleration of communications can be very helpfull. There are many examples that show that critical and oppositional forces can worke and organise themselves more efficiently by making use of ICT. ICT are part of those structures that conserve domination, but they also pose possibilities for networking and emancipatory self-organisation (see Fuchs 2001).

Let us summarise some aspects of modern ICT that are important for social transformations that we are witnessing today:

 Mainly point one shows that ICT are also medium and result of the economic globalisation of capitalism. On the one hand they make the generation of temporal and spatial distance possible, hence local processes are influenced by global ones and vice versa. ICT make global communication and world trade easier. ICT push ahead globalisation, de-centralisation and flexibilisation of production, they are a medium of the territorial restructuring of capitalism.

The generation of networks of production that are typical for transnational corporations has been made much easier by ICT, the latter are also a result of the economic movements of restructuring that are typical for capital. ICT are not only medium of globalisation processes, they are also a result of them. In order to optimize the accumulation of capital, technologies have to increase their productivity. This results in phases of heavy automation. ICT are a result of this. Globalisation is a general process of mankind and also (in antagonistic forms) of capitalism (see Fuchs/Hofkirchner 2000). The internationalisation of capital needs special technologies. Historically shipping, railway, telegraph, telephone, radio, television , automobile, aircraft, computer and nowadays ICT have been logical results and functional categories of the international dimension of capitalism.

Concerning modern ICT and computer-technologies, Marcuse’s arguments about technology are very topical. On the one hand they promote the enslavement by the existing totality, but they can also be used as a medium in processes of liberation. They are neither value-free or neutral, nor liberating or enslaving as such. Hence utopias of a free society should encompass ideas of how computer technologies could be used in a free society in order to reach the realm of freedom and a maximum of individual self-determination and free time. The generation of social prosperity seem to be very easily accomplishable if we take a look at the powers of modern technology, but whether we will really reach the realm of freedom is in no way determined, maybe it is even questionable because the forestallment of social change via the manipulation of consciousness is reaching new dimensions in the information society. But what is important is that revolutionary social change depends on the social self-organisation of revolutionary subjects and that this is possible, even necessary in order to establish a socially and ecologically sustainable society.

”The technological processes of mechanization and standardization might release individual energy into a yet uncharted realm of freedom beyond necessity [...] the individual would be liberated from the work world’s imposing upon him alien needs and alien possibilities. The individual would be free to exert autonomy over a life that would be his own“ (Marcuse 1964: 2).

“Complete automation in the realm of necessity would open the dimension of free time as the one in which man’s private and social existence would constitute itself. This would be the historical transcendence toward a new civilization” (Marcuse 1964: 37).

Marcuse says that technological society has to advance automation to the point where the traditional relationship between labor time and free time is reversed and free time becomes the individuals’ main occupation (Marcuse 1961: 46). The individual’s freedom would be an autonomy from the apparatus of production and distribution (Marcuse 1961: 56).

The goal of the application of technology – which can not be realised in capitalism – is the possibility of a satisfied existence. This would open up qualitatively different relationships between human beings and between humans and nature (1964: 235). With the technological conquest of nature grows the conquest of man by man (Marcuse 1964: 253).

The historical alternative would be “the planned utilization of resources for the satisfaction of vital needs with a minimum of toil, the transformation of leisure into free time, the pacification of the struggle of existence“ (1964: 252f). Marcuse says that  the power to freely dispose of one’s free time would be possible (Marcuse 1961: S. 41) and that free time is part of a free society, spare time part of a repressive one (Marcuse 1966b: 185).

The development of modern technology, Marcuse says, has reached a point where the overthrow of social relationships is necessary. Then sublation of labor by automation would be possible: “Advanced industrial society is approaching the stage where continued progress would demand the radical subversion of the prevailing direction and organization of progress. This stage would be reached when material production (including the necessary services) becomes automated to the extent that all vital needs can be satisfied while necessary labor time is reduced to marginal time. From this point on, technical progress would transcend the realm of necessity, where it served as the instrument of domination and exploitation which thereby limited its rationality; technology would become subject to the free play of faculties in the struggle for the pacification of nature and of society” (Marcuse 1964: 16).

This quotation again shows that Marcuse’s concept of technology is a dialectical one. In capitalism technology is a means of domination and exploitation, in a free society it enables man to reduce social necessary labor to a minimum in order to establish a humane society.

Automation is „incompatible with a society based on the private exploitation of human labor power in the process of production“ (Marcuse 1964: S. 35) beruhenden Gesellschaft nicht vereinbar. In capitalism the application of technology is antagonistic and causes social problems.

Another technology in another society would be part of a process of democratisation. Labor would no longer mean exploitation, but self-development. The focus could shift from material production to human self-realisation (Marcuse 1941: 316). In Marxism, the view has sometimes been uttered that technology could be applied in a new type of society in the way it is today. Marcuse on the contrary holds the view that a qualitative change of society does not only encompass a qualitative change of the economy and politics, also the “technological base” would have to be transformed. Neither nationalisation nor socialisation would change the rationality that lies at the foundation of modern technology. A new direction of technological progress, the catastrophe of the existing one would be necessary, not a quantitative development of the existing technological and scientific rationality (Marcuse 1964: 227f).

Marcuse says that if the working class liberates itself by a revolution, a society which is no longer based on the principle „to each according to his work“, but which relies on the principle „to each according to his needs“ is possible (Marcuse 1964: 41). Marcuse argues like Marx that in a first phase the new society still has some characteristics of the old one, hence compulsion and wage labor are not sublated fully. After a phase of construction the realm of freedom as a second phase could be reached. Only in this second phase would quantitative change (less wage labor, less domination etc.) result in qualitative one (no wage labor, no domination etc.). In the realm of freedom a distribution of goods that does not take into account the accomplished work of an individual and the reduction of labor time to a minimum would be possible (Marcuse 1964: 44). We will see that in prior writings Marcuse criticized the two phase-thesis of communism.

Existing technology, Marcuse argues, is an instrument of destructive politics and hence a qualitative change of politics would have to encompass the change of the direction of technological progress. Politics would have to develop a new technology (Marcuse 1964: 227). “The technological transformation is at the same time political transformation, but the political change would turn into qualitative social change only to the degree to which it would alter the direction of technical progress – that is, develop a new technology” (Marcuse 1964: 227). Marcuse says that the completion of technological progress means the negation of existing technology (Marcuse 1961: 65). But technology would not have to be renewed fully because even today it makes possible the satisfaction of certain needs and the reduction of hard work (ibid.: 242f). But a qualitative change of society would also depend on the change of the technological base. The idea of qualitatively different types of technological rationality would belong to a new historical project (ibid.: 65f). A revolution would have to be a revolution against the existing technocracy (Marcuse 1969: 288).

Another technology in another society would mean technology as art that encompasses the beautiful. Marcuse says that technology as art constructs the beautiful as a type of a totality of life that encompasses society and nature. This would be the opposite of the technology that dominates today’s repressive society – a technology that has gotten rid of the destructive forces which are used by man (Marcuse 1967: 80; see also Marcuse 1969: 261f).

All of these considerations are very important for the discussion of the informatisation and computerisation of labor. Since the microelectronical revolution, living labor has been massively substituted by dead labor. Hence the objective presuppositions of a jump into the realm of freedom seem to be very close, but subjectively we seem to be miles away from it because technological rationality manipulates consciousness massively and makes use of modern technologies. Some people work longer and more intensive, whereas others do not work or have very precarious jobs. Informatisation and computerisation as a medium and result of the crisis of fordism change the world of labor heavily.

In Germany the amount of the unemployed is 4 million, in france unemployment has been rising from 1980 1,5 million to 1995 almost 3 millions. Only in the USA one can find a decrease of absolute unemployment, but this has only been accomplished by the massive expansion of precarious jobs. In 1994 2/3 of all jobs that were created in the USA, were extremely bad paid, the reduction of unemployment has also been achieved by the expansion of part time work. Manpower, a company that relies mainly on part time work, is the largest employer in the USA (560.000 employees). In 1992, more than 34 million US-Americans worked in precarious jobs. More than 25% of all US-employees have a temporary contract or one or more part time jobs (all data from Rifkin 1995). All of this is a result of strategies that want to raise profits by reducing labor costs. In most western countries the increase of the wages has been much lower than the increase of capital in the last two decades. The wage rates, i.e. the share of the wages at the whole income of society, are falling below the level of the 1970ies.

The transitions from Fordism to Postfordism, from Keynesianism to Neoliberalism and towards an information-societal capitalism result in the widening of the global social and ecological problems. Flexibilisation, de-centralisation, specialisation, diversification, informatisation and the flattening of organisational structures can be explained by the fact that capital is searching for new strategies and areas of capital accumulation due to the lasting crisis. The transition from Fordism to Postfordism took place in the framework of the search for a solution of the crisis of Fordism and capital accumulation. Neoliberal politics aim at creating a framework for the economy that makes it possible to raise profits by minimizing the costs of investment (constant and variable capital). This results in de-regulation, precarious job relationships, the dismantling of the welfare state, deterioration of labor and social policies, lowering of taxes on capital, flexible labor times, housewifezation etc.

The new phase of economic globalisation and the creation of national states of competition (Hirsch 1995) are also aspects of this restructuring of capitalism. The outsourcing of production which allows a reduction of the constant and variable share of capital is a result of it. The restructuring of corporations (de-centralisation, flexibilisation, outsourcing, lean management, flattening of hierarchies, just-in-time-production etc.) does not mean a humanisation of labor, its aim is increasing profits by cutting costs. The model for this is the Japanese Lean-Production-system of Toyota, hence one also quite often speaks of Toyotism. „The basic purpose of the Toyota production system is to increase profits by reducing costs - that is, by completely eliminating waste such as excessive stocks or workforce“ (Monden 1983, S. 11). As new qualities of the mode of discipline (see Fuchs 2001) the society of control (Deleuze 1993) emerges. This refers to the ideological integration of the work-force; motivation, identification, bonus-systems, share options, team work, flat hierarchies etc. All of these strategies are employed in order to increase profits and productivity. On the one hand we are witnessing different types of participative management, on the other hand a re-taylorisation of labor takes place. Technological changes involve the usage of flexible machineries of production, a transition from standardised mass production to diversified quality production with a small amounts of produced commodities which have a high quality. The goal of automation and computerisation is the decrease of labor costs in order to increase profits.

The usage of modern ICT in organisations is due to economic interests. Without the global crisis of Fordism, the new technological paradigm would also have emerged sooner or later, but this process would have taken place much slower. The massive diffusion of ICT results from capitalism’s permanent search for effective means of production, rationalisation and mechanisation. ICT make outsourcing and de-centralisation of production, team work, the flexibilisation of jobs and the flattening of organisational hierarchies much easier. These new technologies are a logical result of the development of the productive forces. Unqualified and hence highly mechanised jobs mainly in the areas of electronics and textile production have been massively outsourced from Western countries to Southeast Asia during the last 20 years.

This has resulted in sweat shops with very inhumane conditions of labor. Marxist feminism stressed that the over-exploitation of women in these sweat shops has to do with ICT, economic globalisation, an international division of labor and housewifezation. Economic globalisation and the third industrial revolution would only be possible by the exploitation of women in the Third World (see e.g. Mies 1996).

Marcuses’ indications that technology takes on an inhumane character in capitalism, also prove to be true in the Information Society. But the widening of the global problems and the precarious living conditions of large parts of the world population are not due to immanent features of technology as such. All of this is a result of the capitalist application of technology. An immediate transition into the realm of freedom would be possible today.

Robert Kurz and the Krisis-group stress legitimately that the ontologisation of labor has been a negative feature of traditional marxism and the soviet system. Labor has been fetishised and idealised. Labor and laborer were considered something like religion and god in the soviet system (see Kurz 1991: 11-15, Kurz 1994). The goal was the liberation of labor from its capitalist ties, not the liberation from labor itself and the compulsions that result from it. Labor society would reach its own limits today, hence it would be necessary to advance to a system that goes beyond labor. Krisis wants labor to be sublated, and along with it bourgeois society. They call for a social movement against labor (Krisis 1999: 41).

Indeed, today the goal of progressive forces should not be the liberation of labor from its capitalist wrap, labor and full time employment for all, but a right to laziness (Lafargue 1899), the establishment of a realm of freedom, free time instead of labor, mental instead of material labor, holiday instead of labor day, non-operational thinking instead of instrumental reason, solidarity instead of the war of competition, sensuousness instead of repression and freedom as a permanent state as well as the end of material and psychological shortages. This could result in a society in which individuals co-operate with a high degree of solidarity and where they have the highest degree of self-realisation and well-rounded development (in the sense of Marx). Marcuse’s utopia of a free society is still extremely important today.

But, and these are my greatest concerns, it is still the case that change of the existing direction of progress would mean fundamental change, but social change presupposes that there are vital needs for it as well as the experience of intolerable relationships. In the society we live in, these needs and experiences are forestalled by a large apparatus of manipulation (Marcuse 1965: 125).

2. Revolutionary Subject

 Concerning fundamental social change, the question about the difference between the inside and the outside is very important. The question is whether forces that negate existing society can sublate it from the inside or from the outside. Marcuse (1966a) discussed this question and I am following his view in this respect. He argues that there are forces that negate bourgeois society which stand outside the system and try to work against the latter. He sees the outside in the sense of social forces that represent needs and goals which are suppressed in the existing antagonistic totality and can not unfold themselves in this system (1966a: 198).

Here he speaks of humans as the potential main productive force of revolution who can put their consciousness and practice outside of the system, they can transcend the existing false totality and work towards its sublation. The “Keimform” (germ) of a new society does not so much cover social structures for Marcuse, but emancipatory human consciousness which unfortunately seems to be absorbed more and more into the inside of the system in the advanced industrial society. 

Just like Marcuse, I think that the material base of a society must have reached a certain development, so that such an emancipatory outside can lead us into the realm of freedom. In various discussions it is today often argued that a material and economic type of outside exists (e.g. self-managed corporations, Linux, circles of exchange etc.). Nonetheless I pretty much favour Marcuse’s position which holds that economic processes are part of the inner dynamics of capitalism and that self-organising political movements that want to establish a new society and rely on direct democracy concerning their own organisational principles tend to organise themselves and their consciousness on the outside of the existing totality. It is not idealistic to say that critical consciousness is part of the outside of society. Subjectivity is an important factor of the dialectics of subject and object as pointed out by Marx and Marcuse (see Marcuse 1966c). The inner contradictions of society and the productive forces develop objectively, but there is not an automated development towards a society that is socially and ecologically sustainable.

Emancipatory subjects with class consciousness are necessary. It is not determined whether such a consciousness can be developed today and to which outcome struggles that result from it will lead. Marcuse says that the material and intellectual productive forces that are entangled into the existing antagonisms are ready to enter a higher type of social existence by conscious struggles with the existing forces. The outcome depends on the conditions and possibilities of these struggles and on consciousness that develops from it. A necessary stipulation would be that the subjects become conscious of their slavery and the reasons of it, that they see liberation as something necessary and that they try to find ways towards it (Marcuse 1996c).

For Marcuse these arguments encompass the view that existing technologies can not simply be overtaken into a new society, but many new qualities would have to be developed in order to reach the realm of freedom. “The technological transformation is at the same time political transformation, but the political change would turn into qualitative social change only to the degree to which it would alter the direction of technical progress – that is, develop a new technology” (Marcuse 1964: 227)

In the 1930ies the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School supposed that a social revolution and a transition into a new society would soon come. With the rise of German fascism this assessment proved to be wrong. Marcuse, Horkheimer, Adorno and others were hence in many respects disillusioned by the working class as a revolutionary subject. Whereas Horkheimer and Adorno now supposed that revolutionary change would not be possible for a long time, because consciousness in the advanced industrial society would necessarily be false consciousness, Marcuse remained much more optimistic. On the one hand he also argued that qualitative social change is forestalled by manipulation and social controls, but he did not totalise this view. He said that besides this tendency there are still potential revolutionary subjects. He also was in search for the outside of society and was much closer to a unity of revolutionary theory and practice than Horkheimer and Adorno who saw the prevention of a second Auschwitz as the only possible and necessary political goal.

One of the main questions in sociology is how structures and actions are related. In classical sociology this question has been solved in reductionist manner. Functionalism (e.g. Durkheim, Merton, Parsons, Luhmann) and Structuralism (e.g. Althusser, Balibar) solved this problem in favour of social structures, Theory of Action and Symbolic Interactionism (e.g. Weber, Mead, Habermas) in favour of individual and social actions. The shortcomings of these approaches can be avoided by a dialectical approach that takes into account that social structures constrain and manipulate individual thinking and acting and that these structures are being changed by social actions. Marcuse realised this dialectical relationship. On the one hand he stressed that the social structures of late capitalism produce false consciousness in tremendous amounts, on the other hand he also stressed the possibilities of revolutionary change. He e.g. said in the opening words of his One Dimensional-Man: “One-Dimensional Man will vacillate throughout between two contradictory hypotheses: (1) that advanced industrial society is capable of containing qualitative change for the foreseeable future; (2) that forces and tendencies exist which may break this containment and explode the society. I do not think that a clear answer can be given” (Marcuse 1964: xlvii)

Already Marx had considered this relationships as a dialectical one as can be shown e.g. by the following quotation: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past” (Marx 1852: 115). Not only structures and actions – to which revolutionary thinking and acting always has to refer – are mediated dialectically, there is also a specific dialectic of liberation as Marcuse pointed out. He says that there is no revolution without individual liberation and no liberation of the individual without the liberation of society (Marcuse 1969: 54).

At the time of the students’ revolt, some students squatted Adorno’s Institute for Social Research in order to force him to position himself. Adorno thought he had been misunderstood, he did not see it the way that the time for revolution had come and he did not want to be some type of leader or father figure. The second point surely was true, but the consequences – the eviction of the institute by the police which had been called by Adorno – was in all respects wrong. Later, this was also pointed out by Marcuse who wrote in a letter to Adorno that this had been very brutal, that he is with the students when the alternative is one between the police and left students. He said that representatives of the Critical Theory had to face the fact that these students had been influenced by them and that he was very happy about this fact (see Behrens 2000: 123f).

Marcuse differed from Horkheimer and Adorno in the respect that practical aspects of politics were always very important for him. Whereas one could get the impression from One Dimensional Man (which was originally published in 1964) that manipulation totally dominates society (there are only some slight comments about liberation and the possibilities of a “great refusal”), Marcuse seems to be very impressed by the students’ revolt and the emergence of the New Left in his Essay on Liberation (1969). A radical potential for liberation and emancipatory practice at once seemed to be very topical. Marcuse was an “intransigent optimist, always on the search for new social movements of liberation. His main interest is not to trace out revolutionary prophecies, but the historical possibilities of a revolution and the deep-rooted human need for ‘another society’” (Heinz Lubasz in Marcuse et al. 1978: 138). The dialectic of structures and actions also shows us that a critical theory of society has to consider revolutionary change. Marcuse always thought that revolution is a possibility and that it is necessary to liberate humankind. Young Marcuse wrote about the necessity of the catastrophic sublation of the factual condition by total revolution (Marcuse 1932). This motive remained a central one during his entire life.

At the end of the 1960ies Marcuse was very impressed by the revolts of the students, of the people in the ghettos and in the Third World which made the theme of liberation a topical one (see Marcuse 1969 and 1972). He said that they have revoked the idea of revolution from the continuum of suppression and have connected it with its true dimension – the one of liberation (Marcuse 1969: 243). Marcuse (1972) is also impressed by the protest of the emerging ecological-, civil rights- and feminist-movements. Another time he said that a political feminist movement means the negation of the existing values and goals of patriarchal society and hence also the negation of the values and goals of capitalism  (Marcuse 1973/74: 170). The new groups would not automatically be subjects of revolution, but Marcuse considered them as anticipating groups which could function as catalysts for revolution (Marcuse et al. 1978: 57). The working class would be necessary for a revolution, but today it would be part of the stabilisation of the existing order and it could be characterised by its false consciousness (see Marcuse 1969: 155, 285f). Objectively, Marcuse considered the working class revolutionary as such, but in late capitalism it is not subjectively revolutionary for itself. Marcuse said that consciousness and practice of the working class had become bourgeois (Marcuse et al. 1978: 56).

The technological changes would also transform the working class, the classical blue collar-workers are substituted by white collar-employees and an increasing importance of mental activities in the area of production. As such this would make the blowing up of the existing order much easier, but in fact the “new working class” would be very integrated and adapted to the system (Marcuse 1969: 286f). Marcuse says that the working class does not simply have to loose its chain in advanced industrial society, a fact that also has theoretical consequences. Marx’ category of class is defined by the role in the process of production, but the capitalist process of production has changed the social existence and consciousness of the exploited by intensifying and generalising exploitation and increasing productivity. Quantity (a higher level of wealth) results in new qualities (bourgeois consciousness, bourgeois needs) (Marcuse 1974: 135).

Opposition moves from the organised working class to struggling minorities. A new subject of historical change emerges. A first necessary step of a revolution is a radical change of consciousness (Marcuse 1969: 285). Marcuse says that such consciousness showed up and that it had anticipating, designing qualities that are open and ready for the new radical and extravagant prospects of freedom (Marcuse 1968: 73). The objective human factor of revolution, Marcuse says, can be found in the working class which is powerless and kept quiet, whereas the subjective revolutionary political consciousness is established by the nonconformist young intellectuals and the non-privileged parts of the inhabitants of the Third World. This would show that a movement that aims at radical change can come into existence outside of the working class, but it would have to try to activate the suppressed forces of rebellion within the labor forces (Marcuse 1968: 73).

What is necessary in the view of Marcuse is radical enlightenment by developing the consciousness (and unconsciousness) of the exploited. This could result in needs that go beyond the violence of the enslaving existing ones (1969: 288) and could only be done by a radical left that engages in political education (Marcuse 1972: 35) and that tries to translate spontaneous protest into organised actions (1972: 52). This would not necessarily mean an authoritarian elite and political leaders, but the possibility of a revolutionary avant-garde (Marcuse 1973/74: 164).  The non-conformity of the new opposition is shown by its unorthodox behaviours that do not accept traditional political practices like parties and committees. Marcuse says that these rebels do not care about things that politicians, representatives or candidates say (1969: 293). The direct actions employed could be seen as being direct democratic and they would anticipate the extensive democratisation of the existing totalitarian society. What would be necessary is a revolutionary power that puts an end to existing violence and that builds up a socialist society. Some examples of such actions would be an unlimited general strike, the simultaneous squatting and over-taking of corporations, government offices, centers of information and traffic (Marcuse 1972: 58). But Marcuse also warned of counter-productive actions like aimless destruction that help to organise the people against the Left.

He saw counter-institutions as necessary, e.g. radical, free media (1972: 60). For the establishment of institutions that are critical of the system money would have to be raised (1973/75: 175). The disintegration of social morality, Marcuse argues, shows itself  e.g. in the breakdown of work discipline, working slowly, an increase of disobedience towards rules, wild strikes, boycotts and insubordination (1969: 310). But this would not automatically result in a revolution, but Marcuse saw it as a symptom of crisis. Nonetheless the system could be held up by employing violence and totalitarian controls. Marcuse sympathised with the New Left, but nonetheless criticised it heavily (e.g. its anti-intellectualism and its missing of an extensive theoretical perspective). His disillusionment about the working class decreased a little bit due the fact that at the end of the 1960ies the amount of strikes, sabotage and refusals of work increased in western countries (but this vanished soon). In Counterrevolution and Revolt (1972), Marcuse was impressed by this rebellion against the whole of forced conditions and the system of performance as such (1972: 28).

Marcuse argued that in late capitalism a  sharpening of protests, locally and regionally organised, would be possible and he said that maybe some corporations could break out of the system, a radicalisation of self-management would be possible which could result in a diffuse disintegration of the system that intensifies itself (Marcuse et al. 1978: 61). The revolts that took place at the end of the 60ies and the beginning of the 70ies have not lead to a revolution. Marcuse did not expect a revolution, he said that this would only be one possibility, presupposed that an extensive movement emerges that also covers the working class. Such a possibility is always given, but it presupposes the extensive organisation of revolutionary consciousness. And this was not accomplished by the New Left. So it is not only the fault of those forces that adapt their consciousness to the system.

Marcuse’s view of a dialectical embededness of revolutionary process into the relationships of social structures and actions is still very topical. Today not only the working class is becoming bourgeois, this also holds for protest movements who argue and act less and less revolutionary. Nonetheless due to the widening of the global problems, revolutionary subjects would be necessary. The task of the unity of political theory and practice in this situation is to trigger revolutionary consciousness and the self-organisation of potential subjects. Hence a left-wing avant-garde is still necessary, as already pointed out by Herbert Marcuse 25 years ago. It is even indispensable if we want to advance towards a new society.

Elsewhere I have explained processes of class structuring in Postfordism at some detail (see Fuchs 2001: 111-123). Let me summarise some aspects: Capital and labor power are contradictory parts of a class relationship because workers perform unpaid surplus labor. The accumulation of capital needs an ever growing and permanent increase of surplus value that is produced. Reproductive workers (who are in most cases women) are exploited in the framework of patriarchal modes of production (which mostly are located in families) by capital and men because they perform unpaid or very low paid labor which is necessary for the existence and permanent reproduction of capitalism. Wage laborers exploit reproductive workers in order to have the physical and psychological abilities that enable them to be exploited by capital. The decreasing number of core workers[2] can only keep up its full time wage-relationships because capital tries to worsen the working conditions of peripheral laborers (part time jobs, seasonal work, precarious jobs etc.)[3]. The over-exploited peripheral laborers form an own class that is exploited by capital. Core workers quite frequently engage themselves in this relationship of domination on the side of capital by promoting non-solidarity and their own advantages at the expense of others.

Workers in racist relationships of production are also over-exploited by capital. Over- or Super-exploitation means that capital creates peripheral, patriarchal and racist relationships (which can be seen as colonies of primitive accumulation) in order to maximize the production of profit by deregulating the conditions of labor and minimizing the variable share of capital. Core- and peripheral laborers (as well as the unemployed) frequently support the maintenance of racist relationships of domination because they hope that their situation improves if the social situation of others gets worse. Hence those who are exploited in racist manners form an own class which is part of a relationship of exploitation in which capital and other promoters of racism form the antagonistic part.

Another class relationship exists between center and periphery of capitalism because on the one hand the world market creates poverty in the Third World and on the other hand the export of capital results in the production of surplus value in the peripheral areas which is transferred to the centers. Capitalism is in need of milieus of primitive accumulation that are super-exploited and ostracized in order to produce surplus value, to guarantee capital accumulation and the permanent reproduction of capitalism. Patriarchal and racist modes of production, peripheral laborers and the peripheral areas of the capitalist world system can be regarded as such milieus of primitive accumulation. These class relationships are coined by an asymmetrical distribution of power, exploitation and domination. Asymmetrical power also means the asymmetrical access to information. More powerful groups have better access to information and knowledge.

These processes of class structuring that are typical for Postfordism result in various potential revolutionary subjects which find themselves placed at the less powerful side of the dividing lines of society: the working class, reproductive laborers, feminist movements, peripheral workers, the unemployed, the racially exploited, anti-racist-movements, the poor, Third World-solidarity movements. In addition we find protest movements such as the ecology movement, civil rights movements, the youth movement, the alternative movement, the homosexual- and transgender-movement and the peace movement. Processes of class structuration are no longer solely determined by the process of production because the amount of those who immediately produce surplus value decreases due to the effects of automation. This does not result in a transition to a classless society, on the contrary: exploitation, the forestallment of social change and powerlessness reach new dimensions.

Political globalisation is influenced by the existing antagonisms of capitalism, but it can also be understood (as Deleuze and Guattari (1977) pointed out) as the emergence of emancipatory social networks whose parts establish alternative perspectives against neo-liberalism and the globally existing precarious conditions of life. This could result in a large movement that sublates the existing totality of society. In Fuchs (2001), I argued that the emergence and self-organisation of revolutionary social networks can with reference to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari be described as rhizomes. I pointed out that the emergence of rhizomes should be seen in the context of the theory of self-organisation. We can not assume that social movements automatically have an emancipatory character. They are only potential revolutionary subjects and hence it is possible that they develop needs and abilities that go beyond the existing totality, structures of self-organisation and a practice that is critical of society. But these qualities do no form the essence of social movements. Some of these movements can already be characterised by some aspects that are typical for processes of emancipation (such as direct democratic types of organisation, autonomy, self-organisation), but this does not mean that they can already be considered as revolutionary subjects.

The question of an intellectual avant-garde is again very important today. Rhizomes and meta-rhizomes do not automatically have revolutionary consciousness that goes beyond capitalism; and hence intellectual avant-gardes are necessary in order to trigger the self-organisation of rhizomes. Such intellectual avant-gardes do not want to be leaders of a revolution such as the traditional marxist-leninist parties and they try to trigger the transformation off potential revolutionary subjects into real revolutionary subjects who see their problems as those of others and those of others as their own ones. An intellectual avant-garde is not at the head of revolution as a leading and steering force, it only triggers revolution. Marcuse would have had quite similar views because he attached no value to the classical leninist avant-garde (for the conception of an intellectual avant-garde see also Fuchs 2001: pp 160ff).

Networked, revolutionary social movements do not need to have homogenous interests and they do not have to aim at an homogenisation of their politics in order to establish a common political perspective. On the other hand they also do not have to tolerate all possible political options, this would result in a postmodern “anything goes” that can simply destroy revolutionary movements. It makes sense that on the one hand they stress their different political ideas and strategies, their specific local and regional conditions of political struggle and that they on the other hand also develop a common perspective by stressing what unites them in their struggles. Steven Best and Douglas Kellner (1997) have characterised such a political strategy as a synthesis of modern and post-modern politics. They say that a unity of aspects from “modern politics” such as solidarity, alliances, consensus, universal rights, macro-politics and of aspects from “postmodern politics” such as difference, plurality, multi-perspectiveness, identity and micro-politics is necessary. Such a dialectic of modernism and postmodernism could help in solving the global problems. A position of unity in diversity has also been formulated by Fuchs/Hofkirchner (2000) for the political as well as for the cultural area. The future of our society depends on the self-organisation and radicalisation of existing protest movements which are quite bourgeois nowadays. The central concept of all of this is self-organisation.

The theory of self-organisation (see Fuchs 2001) has resulted in a change of scientific paradigms: a shift from the Newtonian paradigm to the approaches of complexity has taken place. We are going from predictability to deterministic chaos, from order and stability to instability, chaos and dynamics; from certainty and determination to risk, ambiguity and uncertainty; from the control and steering to the self-organisation of systems, from linearity to complexity and multidimensional causality; from reductionism to emergentism, from being to becoming and from fragmentation to interdisciplinarity. This has been interpreted as a shift from modern to post-modern knowledge (Best/Kellner 1997). The Social Sciences are still dominated by the Newtonian paradigm: methodologically systematic and precise empirical investigations followed by inductive generalisations dominate instead of the ascending from the abstract to the concrete as proposed by Marx in the introduction to the Grundrisse (Marx 1857/58); traditionally the social sciences have been fragmented into anthropology, economics, political science and sociology and there is a lack of interdisciplinarity. Still social scientists’ main concern is to discover universal rules that fully explain individual and social actions and that make it possible to plan and predict the development of society. Such views do not take into account the dialectics of generality and particularity and of chance and necessity that are suggested by the sciences of complexity. A further flaw of classical approaches within the social sciences has been that human history has been conceived as inevitably progressive. Personally I think that during phases of instability and crises we find points where the further development of history is not determined, but relatively open. Such points again and again show up, but it is not determined how the outcome will look like. They are an expression of antagonistic forces that lead to social crises and instabilities. Immanuel Wallerstein says that the social sciences are confronted with an end of certainties today, irreversibility, chance and non-predictability are very important today (see Wallerstein 1995, 1997).

Hence it is not determined how the society of tomorrow will look like. There are many possibilities, in a phase of turbulence and instability the further development of the system can not be predicted. An ideal type of society can not be planned and the evolution of society can not be steered in a pre-determined manner. But we can work out some principles that could increase the chance that we will not face ultimate destruction and that we can establish a society that is socially and economically sustainable. And also in this respect I believe that social self-organisation and self-determination are very important; these are principles that could replace hierarchic modes of organisation. Self-organisation always means a direct-democratic bottom-up-process. I believe that the historical evolution of society has reached a point of bifurcation where massive instabilities show up which result in the worsening of the global problems and where the further development of society is relatively open. So we face an ambivalence of great risks and dangers on the one hand, but of great possibilities on the other. There are several possible scenarios of development: The end of humanity due to an escalation of the global problems, the further crisis-ridden reproduction of capitalism in the framework of an extremely militarised and repressive regime, a transition towards openly fascist types of capitalism or fundamental social change that presupposes a change of attitudes in all areas of society and that can help us in establishing socially and ecologically sustainable paths of development. I consider only the last alternative as a desirable one.

Concerning the future development of society, I am not too optimistic. But the evolution of society is not independent from social actions. In a phase of societal instability and chaos the intervention of humans is very important. It is not possible to steer further developments, but maybe evolution can be guided into certain paths by applying sustainable principles of social systems design. I.e., human intervention enables us to increase the possibility that a certain path of development will be taken; but: we will never have certainty. If the intervention of humans into society and nature continues to rely on destruction and exploitation, it seems quite obvious to me that the result will be one of the first three alternatives that I lined out and that I am horrified of. But if the potential of self-organisation can be activated – i.e. if we try to work against social hierarchies and injustice by making use of direct democratic bottom-up-interventions –, I am quite confident that the outcome will be the fourth scenario and that we will humanise the conditions of life globally by relying on the principles of self-organisation, self-management and self-determination in all areas of social life. A society that is socially as well as ecologically sustainable could result from this.

I still have certain hopes that the new social movements will play an important part in the democratisation of society because direct democracy and self-organisation have in some respects always been important for them. But on the one hand we are witnessing the institutionalisation and hence the potential end of social protest movements today, on the other hand what these movements are missing is an overall and extensive perspective that covers the solidarity and bonds of all people who are exploited or suppressed as well as self-organisation as an extensive principle of self-organisation in the economy, politics and all other areas of life. The Internet mainly is a medium of attaining profits. But modern ICT can also be used by self-organising political movements in order to act in a more networked and effective manner. There are some examples that show that the self-organisation of critical and oppositional actions can be supported by networking (see Fuchs 2001). ICT are part of those structures that keep up slavery and misery, but they also pose possibilities that should be used in order to effectively support the self-organisation of critical movements (see Fuchs 2001). But also in this area we do not (yet?) find a potential that is large enough for fundamental social change.

In our near future we will find a radically transformed society (or no society at all, but this also means radical transformations) and this society in transition will be characterised by large social unrest and an increase of daily violence during the next decades. It is not the question if we want to change society because it changes permanently. The question that poses itself is if we want an escalation of the global problems or if we want to change society and humankind in a positive sense. The grand crisis of the world system that we are witnessing today is a result of the antagonisms of capitalist development. The crisis is relatively independent from the will of the individuals, but this is not true for the possible developments in a point of historical bifurcation. In such a phase or crisis, instability and chaos small political actions can have great consequences. This is also known as the butterfly-effect. Hence the free will is very important in such situations. Progress is possible, but certainly not inevitable, and it depends on social self-organisation and on a social practice that triggers the transition towards humane paths of history.

These aspects of self-organisation have been anticipated by Herbert Marcuse although he did not know the theory of self-organisation which at these times was still in its infancy. He described the fact that in revolutionary situations small causes can result in large effects as domino-effect: Rebellions that start at certain locations could increase and intensify themselves (Marcuse 1966b: 176). Marcuse says that if a revolution is successful in a strategically important country, it could enlarge itself to other countries and regions like some kind of snowball system (Marcuse 1973/74: 148). The theory of self-organisation stresses that during phases of instability where initial fluctuations intensify themselves, small perturbations can trigger large processes of self-organisation. Concerning the revolutionary process, Marcuse spoke of groups that are very weak in the beginning and can catalyze larger rebellions (Marcuse 1969: 284). Elsewhere I have described the self-reinforcement and –amplification of social movements as Temporary Autonomous Rhizomes (TAR) (Fuchs 2001). Marcuse also speaks of such de-centralised, potentially revolutionary types of (self-)organisation. The process of inner disintegration could take on a more far-reaching, de-centralised, diffused and spontaneous character, it could take place at several places at the same time or could spread itself. But local dis-functionalities and disturbances could only become core zones of social change if they are organised politically (Marcuse 1969: 48).

Marcuse also stressed that the development is relatively open in phases of crisis. He says that the future only means the possibility of liberation and that the latter is not the only possibility, there could also be a long period of “civilised” barbarity with or without nuclear destruction (Marcuse 1969: 314). Social self-organisation also means that a revolutionary theory needs theory and critical consciousness, but it does not need leaders who organise all of this. What is needed is the triggering of true consciousness and critical thinking, that is all. Spontaneity is an expression of the self-organisation of revolutionary movements that could lead us towards a new society. Such rebellions, Marcuse says, resist centralised bureaucratic-communist organisation as well as pseudo-democratic liberal ones. A strong element of spontaneity and anarchism would be part of rebellious movements (Marcuse 1969: 315). Enlightenment, education and political practice are – as Marcuse points out in the same passage – necessary. Not as a leading force, but as a trigger of self-organisation. Self-organising revolutionary movements anticipate a society that is based on the principle of self-determination. Marcuse says that the gratification of vital material needs by the revolution must be accomplished in accordance with this principle (Marcuse 1973/74: 171). He regarded the Great Refusal and the direct democratic types of revolutionary actions that I mentioned, as types of self-organisation. And this could result in a situation where the conditions have reached a point where the take-over of single plants and corporations and the self-organisation of labor can take place (ibid.: 173).

The material conditions have reached a level today where an immediate transition into the realm of freedom would be possible. But due to the capitalist types of socialisation the development of the productive forces has resulted in a permanent crisis. The general-self-organisational, antagonistic evolution of capitalism is crisis-ridden, the antagonism between the productive forces and the relationships of production manifests itself in massive ways nowadays. Social self-organisation is necessary in order to increase the possibility that we will reach sustainable paths of development.

The establishment of a sustainable and socially self-organised society needs revolutionary, self-organising subjects who develop critical consciousness and make use of it in social struggles. It is not certain whether or not this consciousness can be developed and what outcome struggles that result from it will have. Marcuse said that the productive forces that are entangled into the existing antagonisms would be ready for a higher type of existence. The outcome would depend on the conditions of social struggles and of consciousness that develops itself in these struggles. This would also have to encompass subjects who have understood the reasons for their slavery, want liberation and have realized ways towards it (Marcuse 1966c). This is the main aspect of processes of social self-organisation in society today.

 3. Democracy and Fascism

 Herbert Marcuse was a radical critic of capitalism and of its accompanying representative system of democracy which he only saw as a pseudo-democracy. The one-dimensional world, Marcuse (1964) argues, is the opposite of a free one because the latter one would have to include freedom from economic and political control. Only in such a society would free individual thinking be possible. Freedom in the sense of free selection from a broad spectrum of commodities and services does not mean freedom for Marcuse, because these commodities keep up social control.

People would recognise themselves in their commodities, they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment (Marcuse 1964: 9). By manipulating the minds with the help of technology, mass media and commodities, one-dimensional thinking and acting emerges: “Thus emerges a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behavior in which ideas, aspirations, and objectives that, by their content, transcend the established universe of discourse and action are either repelled or reduced to terms of this universe“ (Marcuse 1964: 12).

Also language is one-dimensional in late capitalism. Attributes such as “freedom”, “equality” and “democracy” are taken in order to characterise capitalism (free market, initiative, election etc.). This skips that the prevailing mode way of freedom is servitude and the prevailing mode of equality superimposed inequality (Marcuse 1964: 88). Public and personal opinion accepts manipulation. Language and communication immunise themselves against the articulation of protest and refusal. Commercials impose new meanings and images on commodities in order to sell them. Critical thinking shall be suppressed, only stupid, reflex-like reactions of the objects of commercials are welcomed. Commercials make use of an antagonistic, manipulating language, it creates new words in order to sell commodities.

Dominating forces present brutalities as something very normal that should not be questioned. E.g. commercials of the Civil Defense Headquaters talk about a “’deluxe fallout-shelter’ with wall-to-wall carpeting (“soft“), lounge chairs, television, and Scrabble, ‚designed as a combination family room during peacetime and family fallout shelter should war break out’“ (Marcuse 1964: 248).

Marcuse argues that today language is a one-dimensional one, one that is a vehicle of streamlining consciousness. An antipode would be a dialectical language that speaks about antagonisms. Marx e.g. speaks about the proletarians in his Communist Manifesto to whom he gives the attributes of total oppression and of the total defeat of oppression (Marcuse 1964: 119). People are manipulated in such ways that they accept and tolerate capitalism. This means false consciousness that could be transformed into a true one. False needs, Marcuse says, are such that are imposed by social forces in order to keep up suppression. Hence these needs are also repressive ones. “Most of the prevailing needs to relax, to have fun, to behave and consume in accordance with the advertisements, to love and hate what others love and hate, belong to this category of false needs” (Marcuse 1964: 5). As long as people are manipulated and do not have autonomous self-consciousness, the answers to the question what true and false needs are can not be understood as being their own ones.

The controls executed by society are reproduced in the individual’s consciousness. Marcuse calls this process introjection (Marcuse 1964: 10). “The result is, not adjustment but mimesis: an immediate identification of the individual with his society and, through it, with society as a whole“ (ibid.: 10). Marcuse says that repressive tolerance is a typical phenomenon of bourgeois society today (Marcuse 1965c). Tolerance is pretended in order to suppress alternative social developments. Predominating ideas and attitudes as well as alternative views are tolerated in order to protect the already existing machinery of discrimination (Marcuse 1965c: 139). In the affluent society there is plenty of discussion, all possible standpoints can be heard. It is always assumed that the people are able to select from these ideas autonomously based on a free understanding. But exactly this is what Marcuse questions. He says that domination by the monopolised media which are instruments of economic and political power produces a mentality that relies on predetermined views of what is right and wrong, true and false. Hence departures from the “common sense” are blocked, everything that does not belong to the establishment is not accepted. This starts with the language that is published and ordained. There is a strict stabilisation of the sense that words make. Rational discussion and the persuasion of the contrary are almost impossible. Other words can be spoken and heard, but the conservative majority assesses them instantly and automatically in specific predetermined manners (Marcuse 1965c: 146). Hence the decisions on opposed view are predetermined, the toleration  of opposite views is mere illusion, the reality means repressive suppression of true consciousness by the effective and subtle production of a one-dimensional mass consciousness. Hence modern democracy, Marcuse says, is a totalitarian democracy. The individuals would not even have the want to read, see or hear something that does not go along with the generally accepted truth resp. falsity (Marcuse 1973/74: 152). Bourgeois democracy has a militant and reactionary character but is accepted by the people (ibid.: 160).

Marcuse says that capitalism is a totalitarian system. Totalitarianism is not only a terrorist political co-ordination of society, it is also a non-terrorist economic-technological co-ordination that manipulates needs according to economical interests and that hence also forestalls opposition against the interest organised by the whole (Marcuse 1961: 57). But nonetheless bourgeois democracy is something qualitatively different from fascism for Marcuse because it poses better possibilities for a transition to socialism. Hence Marcuse defended bourgeois democracy when it was necessary although he was one of its hardest critics. During the time of German fascism he drew up studies for the Office of War Information (OWI) and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) about this system, the mentality of the Germans and strategies that should be applied in order to defeat fascism. Here his goal was the establishment of bourgeois democracy instead of the fascist system, not because he liked western democracy, but because in such a system there are beside all totalitarian aspects some basic rights which result in better conditions for political struggles than in fascist systems.

If democracy means self-determination of the people, i.e. a political system where everyone can participate in those processes of decision-making that effect him or her with an equal distribution of power, then it becomes very clear that capitalist society is – as Marcuse stressed – only a pseudo-democracy. Totalitarian aspects dominate in all social sub systems, this is also true for today’s post-fordist phase of capitalism. Let us take a short look at the exclusions and totalitarianisms that constitute bourgeois society today. This will show us that Marcuse’s assessments are still true.

Capitalism is based on various asymmetries and exclusive social information[4] in economics, politics and culture. First, there are asymmetries concerning the economic resources. Private owners and capitalists exclusively control resources and the means of production. Economic information in capitalism means exclusive economic information that is made possible by the private control of the means of production and extensive landed property. The production of surplus value and other relationships of production that depend on the principles of mastery and exploitation and include a transfer of quanta of living labour from exploited groups to exploiters, are compulsory for those who are excluded from the control of economic information.

A labourer “is free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power” (Marx 1867). He/She does not own the means of productions and what (s)he produces and (s)he is forced to sell her/his labour power. Wage and reproductive labour are necessary for the production of surplus value and are constitutive for the formation of class relationships. Class relationships are characterised by domination and exploitation. The exploited work more than they are being paid for, they perform unpaid surplus labour or they even (have to) work for free. Concerning the distribution of the surplus products and the commodities produced, it can be said that they are not being owned by those who produce them. The immediate producers and the ones that are indirectly exploited by capital only get a minimum share.

House and reproductive labour are necessary for the production of capital and the reproduction of labour power. This is a type of unpaid or very low paid labour; capitalism and the production of value could not exist without it. This type of labour is mostly done by women and in our patriarchal society there are essentialistic, biologistic naturalisation that define reproductive labour as belonging to the “nature” of women. Female minds and bodies are controlled, used and exploited in capitalist patriarchy in order to maintain the dominating relationships. Today, women are often exposed to multiple types of burden within relationships of wage- and reproductive-labour. Wage labourers exploit reproductive labourers within the framework of domestic modes of production ─ which are still an aspect of the familial structures of society ─ in order to have the physical and psychological abilities to be exploited by capital. In accordance with Marxist feminism, here we can also speak of a class relationship that is being constituted by the transfer of unpaid labour from reproductive labourers to wage labourers and finally to capital. “domestic labor is a form of socially necessary labor that expands the goods and services available to the working class beyond what it would be possible to purchase with wages. […] The relations of production, exchange, and distribution place those who earn wages in a position to gain access to the material conditions of reproduction and, consequently, in a position of power over those with little or no access to those conditions. […] Sexual inequality is one among the many forms of inequality thus generated by the mode of production within the working class […] The contradictions between capital and labor, between production and reproduction, and the protracted class struggle thereby generated are the determinants of the contradictory nature of the relations between working-class men and women” (Gimenez 1978: 77, 79, 80; see also Delphy 1975, Ehrenreich 1976, Kuhn/Wolpe 1978).

So also in the area of reproductive labor, we have a asymmetrical distribution and control of economic information, i.e. resources. Reproductive labourers depend on money as the general resource and commodity that must be earned by wage labour. Either they are wage labourers additionally or/and they depend upon wage labour within familial structures. They are always threatened by violence and the withdrawal of resources, e.g. also when women can not hold out manifold types of burden. Reproductive labourers often have less rights than wage labourers who are “free” in a double sense, they do not have social security, collective agreements, unions fighting for them etc. Although we are witnessing various forms of housewifization today (Mies 1984), wage labourers are still in a relatively privileged situation in comparison to reproductive and immigrant workers who are exposed to various types of super-exploitation.

So, super-exploitation also exists within the framework of racist relationships of productions. These relationships are generally very bad paid and immigrant workers only have minimal forms of social security (this is also true for peripheral labour relationships such as part time work). Racism is an ideology, wage labourers often participate in its social interspersion in order to maintain their relative privileged situation. Labourers in racist relationships of production only have minimal or no economic resources, political rights and influence on the cultural formation of norms and values. They are confronted with large exclusions concerning economical, political and cultural information. The super-exploitation of immigrant workers constitutes a class relationships, their precarious situation is maintained by capital and by wage labourers who are taken in by racist ideologies (surely this is not true for all wage labourers, but in many parts of the West for large parts of the working class; e.g. in Austria, at the last general elections about 50% of the labourers elected the right-wing-extremist and racist Freedom Party headed by Jörg Haider).

Class relationships always refer to the exclusive control of resources, i.e. economical information, by groups which force others to use these resources in order to accumulate further and new resources. In the case of capitalism, these resources are commodities and capital. Exclusive control also always means the use of violence or at least the threat of violence. This shows that exclusive social information can only operate by making use of repression. In capitalism, economical information is being exclusively controlled.

In bourgeois society, also political information is exclusive social information. Representative democracy only has a very low degree of social self-organisation because decisions are not made by those who are effected by the resulting political information. Today, laws are the dominating types of political information. They are characteristic for societies that depend on the principle of domination. Elections are a type of competition and result in dichotomies of government/opposition and parliament/people. This means the constitution of exclusiveness and the delegation of the competence of reaching decisions to an oligarchic group. The representative model does not advance social self organisation, it depends on the exclusive control of political and economical information.

In the representative political system we are confronted with asymmetries and dichotomies in a double sense. First, the dichotomy of electorate and the ones elected. Secondly, the dichotomies of government/opposition and majority/minority. Hence this political system can not be seen as being socially self-organised. It has been developing in parallel to bourgeois society and in accordance to the principle of exclusivity. Exclusion and competition are basic principles in bourgeois economics and politics.

The state enforces and reinforces the exclusive control of social information. The state is always a bourgeois state and fulfils several functions in the total existing system of domination: 1. Organisation of the infrastructure of capital accumulation, capitalist production and reproduction: research and development, science, education, health, transport, law, preservation of the labourers as object of exploitation, subsidies, aspects of finance and credit, taxation, urban renewal, town planning, conservation, regional planning etc. The state is the planner of capitalist society. Capital is not able to control and plan social conflicts and class struggle alone, it needs state mediation. The state is necessarily a nation state, because national control enables easier access to markets for capital and labour power. The reproduction of the existing relationships can be easier controlled on a national scale. 2. Repressive guarding of the capital-relationship by law, police, military, secret service and the state monopoly on violence. The state is necessary for the violent and repressive suppression of exploited classes that could attack the fundamentals of this situation. The existence of the state means the centralisation of the social potential for violence in an entity that has been made independent from the process of reproduction. This state entity has some degree of autonomy and is not immediately tied to the economic development. For capital, the state is the instrument for the enforcement of its interest and also the organiser of the outer framework of the realisation of such interests. 3. Organisation of counter-tendencies in case of social crises and falling profit rates which are due to the social antagonisms of capitalism. When the mechanisms of the self-reproduction of capitalism fail, regulative instances such as the state or private initiatives try to re-establish a stabile phase of accumulation  4. organisation of the unity of the various fractions of capital (see Poulantzas 1978). Classes are no homogenous units, they are internally fragmented. The state is a factor of cohesion, it holds the capitalist formation of society together. The state organises the block of power, i.e. the dominating classes and their fractions, and formulates general capitalist interests that unite the fragmented and competing fractions of capital. 5. pacification of the exploited: in order to avoid the maintenance of the capitalist order by making use of direct force, the state acts as a mass-integrative apparatus. Here, the regulation of the class relationships by instruments such as social partnerships, concessions to the organisations of the working class, the unions and the class-neutral appearance of the state are important. The latter refers to the fact that the state pretends to stand for the realisation of labour interests in order to avoid the appearance of the essence of the class character of the state. The state tries to produce a consent between dominators and the dominated, hence it always includes aspects of hegemony: “the State is the entire complex of practical and theoretical activities with which the ruling class not only justifies and maintains its dominance, but manages to win the active consent of those over whom it rules“ (Gramsci 1971: 244).

The internal organisation of the state functions in accordance with the principle of exclusivity, the political information/laws that are produced are a type of exclusive social information. And the state is a necessary entity of bourgeois society that organises various conditions of the exclusive formation of economical, political and cultural information in capitalism. The state is neither independent from, nor determined by the capitalist economy. Rather, it has a relative autonomy, i.e. there are also interests in the political and state structure of the existing society that are formed independent from economical interests and relate to the asymmetrical control of political power. But there are also interests and decisions in the structure of the state that are enforced by the state and that are necessary in order to establish exclusive economical information, i.e. private property, commodity production and the accumulation of capital. So state-political information also relates to economical information and certain aspects of it are being influenced by economic processes and interests. Political information constituted by the state also transforms economical information and it always has an exclusive character and means the carrying out of relationships of domination.

In Fuchs (2001), I argued that existing political models that stress elements of direct democracy ─ such as the political system of Switzerland ─ are confronted with various types of exclusion (e.g. the dichotomies of majority/minority, dominators/dominated). Plebiscitary elements have also been used in the political systems of fascist states: There are majority-based decisions on regulative issues, but the questions that are being decided are formulated by the regime. Plebiscites have been used in order to legitimate fascist systems by arguing that these regimes have a democratic character. Such arguments hold that all decisions are made by the people. But in reality, fascism relies on a charismatic type of domination. The will of the people is highly manipulated by hegemonic processes and mechanisms. This leads to an identity of the subjective interests of the masses and the leader, the people trusts its leader and hence decides in the way the fascist elite plans it. Additionally, representatives of the objective interests of minorities, the exploited and the working class are repressed violently or killed. Fascist plebiscites do not at all have something in common with democracy, self-organisation and inclusive social information. In fact, power is centralised and totally carried out in top-down-processes. Such social information is a totally exclusive one, there is no degree of self-organisation. Fascist plebiscites negate the true meaning of direct democracy, they do not advance participation.

Capitalist culture as the way norms and values are being constituted today, is heavily influenced by the mass media. With the transition to information-societal capitalism, these media are even becoming yet more influential by making use of modern information and communication technologies (ICT). These technologies have a dialectical character: They can be used in a way that reinforces existing relationships of domination, but also in a liberating manner. On the one hand, mass culture leads to the forestalment of social change and to stream-lined, one-dimensional mass-individuals. Hence freedom only means freedom to consume, the “free” selection from a diversified spectrum of commodities. All of this results in the manipulation of thinking, consciousness and actions, one-dimensionality appears (Marcuse 1964, Horkheimer 1946, Adorno/Horkheimer 1969), oppositional movements and goals are forestalled to a certain degree. The cultural channels and mediums are being controlled exclusively, the transmitted contents are influenced and produced by information-monopolies. So, also cultural information today is a type of exclusive social information. Monopolies heavily influence the general constitution of norms and values, whereas the scattered individuals are objects of ideologies and propaganda. They can hardly influence the formation of cultural information and the constitution of political information. Typically for capitalism today is the cyber-media-business-complex which changes the public in such a way that scandals – which are often presented in extremely sexualised and racist forms – are becoming the main contents of reporting. The result is further standardisation of consciousness, manipulation, helplessness and powerlessness.

Herbert Marcuse (1964) stresses in this context that the cultural industry presents contents that seem to be wild, obscene and unmoral – and hence they are harmless. Categories like wage labour and commodity-consumption are presented by the mass media as something obvious, but this is a type of totalitarian obviousness that naturalises social compulsions. Marcuse says that the individuals introject the speech and language of the ruling classes, they have false consciousness and false needs. Max Horkheimer (1946) stresses that all of this leads to the production of instrumental reason: Reactions are traced out exactly, no additional effort is necessary, actions seem to be automated and are no longer questioned.

Marcuse (1937b) argues that individuals do not necessary have false consciousness, they can also develop critical thinking and actions. Today culture for Marcuse is coined by domination and it manipulates, hence it is affirmative culture. People feel happy, although they are not. Manifestations of culture could also have anticipating effects, they can inspire fantasy and hence act as anticipations of a better, free world. On the one hand, certain cultural manifestations stabilise the existing order, on the other hand certain manifestations also convey the picture of a order that is better than the existing one.

Considering the new ICT, this view of Marcuse is very important: Concerning the application of these media in the course of social struggle, the situation is an ambivalent one. On the one hand there is the technologically mediated production and simulation of hyper-reality that generates new meanings by putting together different, de-contextualized symbols in order to steer public opinion in a certain manner. In this context, the thesis of cultural industry formulated by Marcuse, Adorno and Horkheimer is right. It says that the cultural industry produces false consciousness and needs, one-dimensional mass-individuals (Marcuse 1964) and instrumental reason (Horkheimer 1946). The new technologies are exactly applied in this manner. But on the other hand, there is the possibility for protest movements to make use of ICT in order to reinforce the effects they have on society (see Fuchs 2001). The new technologies reflect existing relationships of domination, but nonetheless their adoption in a productive manner by protest movements is possible. Protest in the real world can be supported by a virtual culture of protest and a technologically mediated optimisation of manners and structures of political self-organisation.

Political and economical relationships have their own types of culture, culture is only possible in relationship with politics and economics, although it has a certain degree of relative autonomy. In the framework of the complex interplay of culture and politics, hegemony - as a phenomenon that is typical for societies that are based on the principle of domination - is constituted. Hegemony can be seen in accordance with Antonio Gramsci as “the ‘spontaneous’ consent of the masses who must ‘live’ those directives [of the state, CF], modifying their own habits, their own will, their own convictions to conform with those directives and with the objectives which they propose to achieve“ (Gramsci 1971: 266).

Gramsci stressed that the state strives to win the consent of the ones who are dominated to this process (ibid., p. 244). In this process of enforcing a consent between dominators and the dominated state-institutions such as schools and law are important, but also private institutions - which are part of the cultural system - are necessary. “The school as a positive educative function, and the courts as a repressive and negative educative function, are the most important state activities in this sense: but, in reality, a multitude of other so-called private initiatives and activities tend to the same end - initiatives and activities which form the apparatus of the political and cultural hegemony of the ruling classes. [...] The state does have and request consent, but it also ‘educates’ this consent, by means of the political and syndical associations; these, however are private organisms, left to the private initiative of the ruling class“ (Gramsci 1971: 258f). Hegemony always has political and cultural aspects, it is formed in the framework of the complex relationships between politics and culture.

Capitalist culture is affirmative culture and hence we find an exclusive control of the formation of norms and values. Cultural industry as a method of manipulation produces needs and consciousness in certain forms. The formation of cultural information today is mainly an exclusive process. But modern media can also be used in oppositional manners.  Here we again find asymmetries and limitations, because these technologies are mainly locations for capital accumulation and commodification. Nonetheless, modern media can be used as a means of producing critical and oppositional information.

The capitalist society we live in depends on exclusive social information in the areas of economy, politics and culture. So it can be said that it has a very low degree of social self-organisation. The exclusive character of social information is related to the general antagonisms of capitalism. The essential antagonistic structures of capitalism appear as exclusive economical, political and cultural information. There are political-economical antagonisms such as class antagonisms; an economic antagonism between wealth and poverty, one between necessary and surplus labour, one between use and exchange value, one between concrete and abstract labour, one between productive forces and relations of production, one between living and dead labour, one between the profit-based production in single corporations and the total social demand, one between production and consumption, one between the social character of production and the individual appropriation of commodities and one between the producers and the means of production (technology as an end in itself); political antagonisms such as the fractioning of classes, global conflicts caused by the capitalist world system; a cultural antagonisms that holds that it is not possible for all societies to live in global peace and wealth because there are disproportional distributions of global wealth and global relationships of domination/exploitation; and finally an ecological antagonism: the ecology is being destroyed by the non-sustainable mode of production advanced by capitalism, which needs the appropriation of intact ecological resources in order to guarantee its own reproduction.

By relating to the manipulative production of false consciousness and false needs as a totalitarian aspect of the bourgeois system, Marcuse is referring to aspects of hegemony. Hegemony as a characteristic of capitalist society shows that large parts of society are excluded from the processes of constituting social norms, values and decisions. The discussion of the degree of inclusiveness and exclusiveness of capitalist society which has shown that capitalism is based on exclusion in all areas of society points out that Marcuse’s assessment that bourgeois society is a pseudo-democracy and a totalitarian system is still true. But of course there is also the question of which alternatives are possible. Marcuse gave us some important hints on this topic which are quite useful in order to interpret the concept of democracy in a liberating sense.

Marcuse says that if democracy means self-government of free individuals and justice for all, the realisation of democracy presupposes the abolishment of the existing pseudo-democracy (Marcuse 1969: 296). A new society should be based on councils which are organisations of self-determination in local assemblies (Marcuse 1972: 50). An immediate democracy would mean the effective, bottom-up control of power (ibid.: 51). A direct democracy of the majority would be the right political structure for the initial stages of socialism (ibid.: 58). Liberty would have to diffuse into all social areas. Economic liberty would mean liberty from the economy, and its current determination of the individuals. Political liberty would mean the liberation of the individuals from a political systems that can not be controlled by them. And mental liberty would mean the restoration of individual thinking that has been absorbed by mass communication and indoctrination (Marcuse 1961: 58).

The self-management of corporations, plants and  residental quarters would at first mean unpolitical approaches, but they could pose the possibilities to spread unconventional information and the development of core-structures of local organisation. By further developments a political character could emerge (Marcuse 1973/74: 168). At some points of Marcuses’s works, it seems like he is in favour of a state-“dictatorship of the proletariat” which is part of a transitional phase on the way to a free society (see e.g. 1965c: 149f; 139: 146, 1947: thesis 16), whereas in other writings he is in favour of the anarchistic thesis that an immediate transition into the real of freedom is possible (due to the level the material conditions have reached and other factors). Marcuse says that the strategy of the New Left is a concept of socialism that includes the break with the continuum of dependence – from the beginning (Marcuse 1972: 14). He also expresses his view that state socialism did not change the existing apparatus of production and social needs fundamentally. It sustained the fundamentals of class society – the abolishment of the classes; the transition into a free society would presuppose those changes that state socialism aimed at (Marcuse 1947: 137).

Whereas theses no. 16 and 19 of Marcuse’s “33 Theses” (1947) speak in favour of a dictatorship of the proletarians, such a view is negated by the theses no. 18, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29. The latter support the anarchistic thesis. Marcuse says that the two-phase-model which distinguishes between socialism and communism is very dangerous because this could strengthen the view that socialism is only an enhanced type of capitalism. He says that an imitation and surpassing of capitalism is only possible by neglecting the abolishment of domination. But this would make socialism meaningless. The first phase would breed a mentality of subordination and accommodation that renders the transition to the second phase very improbable. It seems like Marcuse was in favour of some aspects of anarchism for some time. He said e.g. that the construction of socialism is not an arising from capitalism, but a fundamental difference to capitalism. The socialist society is the negation of the capitalist world. He sees neither nationalisation of the means of production nor a higher standard of living as such a negation. But the abolishment of domination, exploitation and labor would constitute such a negating force. The socialisation of the means of production, their management by the immediate producers would be the presupposition for socialism. Where this characteristic can not be found, there is no socialism. Marcuse argues that the state-bureaucratic control of the means of production does not abolish wage labor. This would only be possible by an immediate self-management of the producers, i.e. if they can decide, what, how much and how long they produce. Such an anarchy and disintegration would probably be the only way to break up the capitalist reproduction and to generate an interregnum or vacuum in which a change of needs and the generation of freedom can take place. Anarchy would announce the abolishment of domination and disintegration would remove the power of the apparatus of production over the individuals. This would at least mean the greatest possibilities for the negation of class society (Marcuse 1947: theses 24, 25, 26). The apparatuses of state and production, Marcuse says, can not simply be overtaken because concerning their whole structure they are apparatuses of suppression (thesis 29).

Marcuse’s view of socialism as a democratisation of all areas of life that negates capitalism as well as state-socialism anticipated later discussions about an integrative democracy. I want to tear this topic slightly by mentioning a few aspects of the thinking of Murray Bookchin and Cornelius Castoriadis. Murray Bookchin stresses the need for “municipalization of the economy – and its management by the community as part of a politics of self-management” (Bookchin 1992) and he calls for “community self-management based on a fully participatory democracy – in in the highest form of direct action, the full empowerment of the people in determining the destiny of society” (Bookchin 1989). He describes the democratic self-management of a qualitative new society as communalism (Bookchin 1990, 1992, 1994). “Democracy generically defined, then, is the direct management of society in face-to-face assemblies — in which policy is formulated by the resident citizenry and administration is executed by mandated and delegated councils. […] I wish to propose that the democratic and potentially practicable dimension of the libertarian goal be expressed as Communalism […] A Communalist democracy would oblige us to develop a public sphere — and in the Athenian meaning of the term, a politics — that grows in tension and ultimately in a decisive conflict with the state. Confederal, antihierarchical and collectivist, based on the municipal management of the means of life rather than their control by vested interests (such as workers' control, private control and, more dangerously, state control), it may justly be regarded as the processual actualization of the libertarian ideal as a daily praxis” (Bookchin 1994).

Cornelius Castoriadis (1955, 1980, 1990, 1993) conceived the term “autonomous society” for a society without domination, exploitation and hierarchy. Although he used the term socialism in earlier works for describing the “masses conscious and perpetual self-managerial activity” (Castoriadis 1955), he later said that he no longer wants to use the terms socialism and communism (Castoriadis 1980), and so he conceived the term autonomous society.  Autonomous society includes autonomouse individuals – and vice versa (Castoriadis 1980). For Castoriadis it is all about real social freedom and  a maximum of individual possibilities for action that can be guaranteed by the institutions of society. A free society would mean execution of power by a community in which all people can participate in the same manner (ibid.). For Castoriadis equality means an equal distribution of power, i.e. equal and egalitarian possibilities to participate in society that we do not find in capitalist society. His goal was the sublation of heteronomy, the end of the domination of society by certain institutions and groups and the emergence of a new, self-institutioning society (ibid.). Result would be a collective self-management of all areas of society. For Castoriadis, self-management and self-organisation mean the self-institutioning of society. He speaks of the self-organisation of machines, tools, means of labour, conditions of work and life, education, housing and so on. The concept of self-organisation is not just used in an economic sense by Castoriadis, he applies it as an integrative and extensive concept that applies to the whole of society and all its constituting areas (ibid.). Castoriadis (1993) stresses that a self-managed society is one in which all decisions are reached by the social totality of those who are effected by the subject of decision. This is a co-operative process. Castoriadis’ concept of autonomous society is a very good example for a liberatrian democracy and that such an understanding of democracy includes social self-organisation of all areas of society.

Due to the totalitarian character of capitalism and its pseudo-democracy such alternative lines of discussion are very important. Just as his concepts of technology and culture, Marcuse’s concept of democracy is also a dialectical one (Negt 1999). It is not all about a “sublation of democracy”, democracy is not seen vulgarly as synonymous with representation, it is about real democracy as the immediate self-management of all areas of life and representative democracy as a false type of democracy. These are two types of democracy for Marcuse – the liberating and the bourgeois one. His goal was the sublation of bourgeois democracy and the establishment of a truly democratic society.

As already mentioned, Marcuse clearly distinguished between bourgeois democracy and fascism. If there is only the alternative between one of the two, he clearly was in favour of bourgeois democracy. In his American exile, Marcuse analysed German fascism. Many aspects of this analysis are still important today. Marcuse (1941b, 1942) characterises the new German mentality that emerged in National-Socialism and can be characterised by unlimited politicisation, unlimited disillusionment (everything that can not be supported by clear facts is seen as fraud and deception), cynical matter-of-factness (the Germans are brutal pragmatics who judge everything, including fascism, only from the view of their own direct material advantages), new heathenism (anti-Semitism, terrorism, social Darwinism, anti-intellectualism, naturalism as expressions against Christian morals; nature is seen as the source of all impulses, urges, inclinations and wishes), shift of taboos (sexual, familiar, moral ones; abolishment of sexual taboos) and a bond between the masses and the regime (the Germans see the destruction of the Hitler-regime as their personal destruction). Marcuse argued that this new mentality would not automatically vanish with National-Socialism.

NS postulated the destruction of the family, of bourgeois marriage and an attack on patriarchal norms. It appealed to a constructed “nature” of humans, put national-racist ties (the Volksgemeinschaft) against patriarchal authority, body against intellect, soul against mechanisation, open air and nature against the bourgeois home. NS negated the difference between state and society, society and the individual, labor and spare time. All was integrated into a new whole, the Volksgemeinschaft, everything had to function in accordance with it.

Marcuse says that the language of NS simplifies complex structures of sentences, it transforms personal relationships into impersonal things and events and it centers around irrational ideas like people, race, blood, soil and Reich. People (Volk) and race as well as birth determined by origin and location are treated as facts. One no longer talks about society, but instead about the national identity of a people (Volk), about race instead of class, blood and soil (Blut und Boden) instead of property rights. Marcuse further says that the majority of all Germans has accepted this language and identifies itself with the Nazi-regime. 

He argued that the typical characteristics of the one dimensional-man could already be found in German fascism. The individuals would act with great personal initiative, spontaneity and personality, but their thinking, feelings and actions would be determined by the technological rationality of National-Socialism. Language and thinking of National-Socialism, Marcuse says, have been introjected into the individuals’ characters. The authoritarian personality of people in the nazi-system as a mass base of fascism would also have to do with the transformation of the industrial society into an authoritarian society. Marcuse (1941b) argues that NS deprives the people of their individuality and only leaves their bestial self-interests and egoism. Hence they would be very susceptible to standardisation from above.

In the 1970ies, Marcuse again and again warned that the danger of fascism is not banned, he feared a transition into a neo-fascist society in the USA. The authoritarian personality and the one-dimensional man are not only the mass base of fascism, they are also characteristic of late capitalism. This also shows that the danger of fascism has not vanished. The end of National-Socialism has not brought an end to the mentality that has been connected with this system. On the contrary, this mentality still exists in specific post-fascist types in the core regions of former German fascism (and in other countries as well). One-dimensional man and authoritarian personality have become functional elements of capitalism; the latter makes use of them in order to carry itself into the individuals’ consciousness and to produce and introject false needs and false consciousness. This continuation resp. this new creation is so dangerous, frightening and unfortunately still topical, hence the danger of fascism still exists.

The social restructuring from Fordism to Postfordism and the neo-liberal politics that accompany it have lead to an increase of the global problems and an intensification and enlargement of the precarious conditions large parts of the world population have to live in. It is no surprise that the one-dimensional and authoritarian mass base of fascism that still exists increasingly falls on fertile political soil. This results in a boom of right-wing-extremist and neo-fascist groups and parties. In the core regions of former German fascism the authoritarian personality mixes with post-fascist relationships and produces explosive conditions that are very dangerous.

By analysing the language and thinking of neo-fascist demagogues and their authoritarian mass base, one sees that most of the characteristics that Marcuse mentioned are still important. E.g. the cynical matter-of-factness, large parts of the people consider everything only by the immediate material advantages they can derive from it. This results in a massive support for racist ideologies because in one-dimensional thinking the worsening of the material situation of others results automatically in the hope for the improvement of one’s own poor existence. Cynical matter-of-factness is a characteristic of the authoritarian personality as a mass base of neo-fascism and a strategy of propaganda deliberately applied by demagogues. Unlimited disillusionment results in an absolute objectification of authoritarian ideologies today: Certain arguments that are employed by racist and neo-fascist ideologies are presented as rational and unquestionable facts although they are really irrational and aim directly at the prevailing aggressive structures of desire, at emotionality and subliminal fears. As already at the time of German fascism, what we find is a rationalisation of the irrational that closes people’s minds fully against rational counter-arguments, even if they make use of statistics and numerical data. Nature is often substituted by culture in neo-fascist ideologies, a bonding between neo-fascist demagogues and their mass base takes place; each argument that is employed against neo-fascism and its political executors is regarded as being directed against their personal existence by the individuals who support such views and ideologies. Demagogues still try to appeal to the masses and their national identities which in reality are nothing else than mere artificial constructions. The mass base recognises itself in neo-fascist ideologies and its demagogues, it regards itself as identical with the political demagogues and neo-fascist parties.

The one-dimensional language of National-Socialism has been generalised after the end of the Second World War by the rise and monopolisation of the mass media. The yellow press and mass media make us of the personalisation of the objectified and the objectification of social phenomena, they simplify complex facts and cultivate a non-dialectical, primitive language that directly appeals to the cynical matter-of-factness. This prevailing language of the mass media is also the language of neo-fascism and its authoritarian mass base.

Marcuse’s warnings of a new fascism and his characterisation of the fascist mentality are still very important. The danger of fascism has not yet vanished, there could still be situations where we have the alternative between the defence of existing bourgeois democracy (which becomes more and more authoritarian) and the rise of fascism. And still only Marcuse’s position would be the only justifiable and good one.

 4. Culture

 I have already mentioned that Marcuse (1937b) regards the culture of capitalism as affirmative culture. He says that today culture is a manipulating and controlling one, hence he speaks of affirmative culture. The depersonalisation of culture that is triggered by the cultural industry would also contribute to this. People would feel happy although they are not. But Marcuse argues that certain manifestations of culture can also anticipate a better, free world by inspiring fantasy and the power of imagination. On the one hand, cultural manifestations stabilise the existing order, on the other they can also convey a picture of a better order. Marcuse says that fantasy means freedom in a world of serfdom, it can go beyond the existing order and anticipate the future (Marcuse 1937a: 122). His goal is not the “sublation of culture”, but the sublation of the affirmative character of culture. Culture can be seen as an element of each formation of society, it is a necessary element of society and encompasses the totality of the different ways of life as well as symbolic manifestations of these.

Advanced culture, Marcuse says, encompasses elements of opposition against the existing totality. This would be part of the Great Refusal – the protest against that which is (Marcuse 1964: 63). Existing society tries to get rid of these elements. Means of mass communication accelerate the transformation of culture into commodities. Hence, only sales and exchange values of culture are important today. The popularisation of advanced culture forestalls oppositional and critical elements by submitting culture to the laws of the market.

Marcuse is not against the massive diffusion of culture  into society by channels such as TV, cinema or radio, but he stresses that this “cultural machine” fulfils certain ideological functions in capitalism: “It is good that almost everyone can now have the fine arts at his fingertips, by just turning a knob on his set, or by just stepping into his drugstore. In this diffusion, however, they become cogs in a culture-machine which remakes their content” (Marcuse 1964: 65).

Marcuse says that culture means the whole of life in society, the unity of on the one hand the areas of idealistic reproduction (culture in narrower sense, the mental world) and on the other also the areas of material reproduction (“civilisation”) (Marcuse 1937b: 62). He (1965a) stresses that specific views, beliefs, traditions, acquisitions etc. are important elements of culture and that culture is the complex of moral, intellectual and aesthetic goals (values) that are regarded as the purpose of organising, dividing and controlling labor (1965a: 115).

Marcuse makes a distinction between civilisation and culture (the latter in a narrower sense). The first refers to the realm of necessity, social necessary labor and actions where man can not be himself. Culture refers to a higher dimension of human fulfilment and autonomy, it wants to end the struggle for existence. Marcuse characterises civilisation by material labor, the working day, the realm of necessity, nature and operational thinking; culture as an antagonism to civilisation by mental work, holiday, free time, the realm of freedom, mind and non-operational thinking. He says that in the advanced industrial society, culture is incorporated into labor. With such an integration of culture into society, society tends to become totalitarian even in those areas where democratic forms and institutions have still existed (Marcuse 1965a: 117). Traditionally culture has had transcendental goals that anticipated the realm of freedom. But technological civilisation tends to destroy these goals of culture. This results in an assimilation of labor and relaxation, failing and enjoyment, art and household, psychology and management. So culture becomes affirmative. A necessary space for the development of autonomy and opposition is locked by society.

Concerning Marcuse’s works on art and culture, some of his late writings such as „Counter-Revolution and Revolt“ (1972) and „The Permanence of Art“ (1977) are very important. He says that something characteristic of art is its aesthetic form. This refers all qualities (like meaning, rhythm or contrast) that form a closed whole of an opus. Aesthetics, Marcuse says, result in a separation of art from reality and in a distance between both. The aesthetic universe contradicts reality. Art is a part of mental culture, hence it contradicts civilisation. Marcuse says that art reveals another dimension of the existing reality: the one of possible liberation (Marcuse 1972: 88f). He argues that the radical qualities of art, especially of literature, are liberation and the accusations against the existing totality. But this could only be the place where art transcends existing reality (Marcuse 1977: 201). The aesthetic dimension of art is autonomous from material labor, it is separated from the material process of production. Of course, art is also a commodity, but this fact, Marcuse argues, does not change its substance – truth. The beautiful as part of the aesthetic dimension of art negates the world of commodities. Marcuse says that he finds it hard to realise a specific class character of art and to derive such a character from arts existence as a commodity. Of course, art would be something elitist in elitist, bourgeois society, it is only accessible for a privileged minority; this means a class character of art in certain respects, but for Marcuse the distance of art from reality also is constitutive for its aspects of liberation. He says that in a free society, art would no longer be elitist, but it would still be distanced from real life.

Marcuse does not want to distinguish between “bourgeois” and “proletarian” art/culture. He says that the critical, negating, transcending qualities of art are objectified in its aesthetic dimension, not in its contents. In a society where the proletarians are not revolutionary, there could be no revolutionary-proletarian art. It would be a problem for various Marxist theories of art that the proletariat does not negate existing society, that it is in fact integrated into the social totality. Hence such theories, Marcuse argues, should no longer speak of a specific proletarian art and they should stop looking for the revolutionary contents of art. Art is always distanced from revolutionary practice, it can not represent revolution. Art and culture are only united by their engagement for revolution. Art can not be part of revolutionary practice because in doing so it would have to become concrete, it would have to act in relationship to the existing life. But this would result in a destruction of its aesthetic dimension, this would mean the end of art. Marcuse e.g. does not consider literature revolutionary if it is written for the proletarians or for a revolution. Revolutionary art could only refer to the opus itself where the aesthetic dimension is the content itself (Marcuse 1977: 197). If art shakes ones experiences and conveys the picture of another reality, it has subversive qualities.

Rock-music, guerilla-theater or poetry of the free press, Marcuse says, are not anti-art due to their life-likeness, they are a one-dimensional part of the existing order for him because they destroy the distance of art from real life (Marcuse 1972: 101). He further argues that with rock-music, music becomes a collective happening. The repeating gestures, the turning and shaking of the bodies which only touch each other very rarely (if they do at all) – this all would seem like remaining on the same spot all the time, like a mass meeting that scatters itself soon. Marcuse says that this type of music is an imitation, a mimesis of real aggression (Marcuse 1972: 112f). On the other hand Marcuse seems to be impressed by the folk-rock-songs of Bob Dylan. He says that what is decisive here is that the political dimension remains obliged to the aesthetic one  (Marcuse 1972: 114f). Art and revolution would be connected in the aesthetic dimension. Art answers to the total character of repression and alienation with alienation (Marcuse says that some examples for this are the music of John Cage, Karl Heinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez).

In the Cultural Studies and in the discourses and discussions that have resulted from it, much has been said about the possibilities of subversion in and by music. I do not generally believe that music automatically becomes one-dimensional, de-personalising and stupefactious by becoming popular. The degree of one-dimensionality of music is relative autonomous from its degree of dissemination. If this would not be the case, it would mean that Independent Music which has emerged in various sub cultures in the 80ies has automatically had subversive characteristics. By the heavy commercialisation of this genre in the 1990ies one would have to conclude that this assumed subversive character of alternative rock-music has come to a full end. I do not want to argue in such ways because such assumptions seem to be a little bit short-sighted.

Various vulgar arguments hold that rock- and pop-music (these two categories can not be separated) can never be liberating in any sense due to their existence as commodities. Of course each type, genre, oeuvre, opus and piece of music is a commodity, that is a very obvious fact, but I would agree with Herbert Marcuse that one can not derive an affirmative or liberating character of music from its commodity-form. What is essential, is the substance of music, elements of cultural manifestations that lie beneath the surface and aim at human experiences and imagination. Pop and rock are bulk goods and parts of mass culture, but they are due to this fact neither automatically liberating, not automatically affirming the existing totality. They are not less elitist than other cultural manifestations because its recipients are also limited to certain groups and life-styles. Pop is not democratic because culture and art are as a whole part of an unfree, undemocratic world. But nonetheless culture can stimulate imagination and go beyond the existing totality.

Due to my own aesthetic world of experiences, I think that Marcuse’s argument that the aesthetic dimension of rock-music is opposed to the beautiful and the liberating effects of imagination is rather amusing. I believe that neither the aesthetic dimension, nor the content of cultural manifestations automatically has an affirmative or a liberating character. I would also not reduce the liberating dimension to the aesthetic one. Various youth- and left sub-cultures are nowadays looking for a specific revolutionary content of cultural manifestations, especially of music. But the picking up of specific aspects of left politics and views into musical contents does not automatically result in liberating types of culture. On the contrary, also the absence of such contents does not automatically result in affirmative types of culture. Large parts of punk- and hardcore-music thematically address classical leftist topics – anti-fascism, anti-racism, anti-racism, anti-capitalism. At the same time they reproduce the existing one-dimensional universe of language and consciousness in their aesthetic dimension and contents. I am referring to the simplicity and monotony of the song structures, missing  abstraction, the permanent repetition of simple musical basic structures, the reduction of complex relationships to simple paroles and formulas in regards to contents and language. Musical form and content are becoming identical with reality, the non-identity of liberating cultural manifestations ceases to exist, the content is identical with ideological propaganda as put forward by the mass media, the rainbow press and politics, the aesthetic dimension is identical with the lack of abstraction of uniform, monotonous, mechanical movements and activities in production. Cultures becomes entangled with civilisation.

A different and even opposing example is the music of the Goldenen Zitronen. Aesthetic dimension as well as content are much more complex and take on broken forms, the content abstracts itself in its apparent absurdity and its alienation from reality and ordinary language, but on the other hand it also refers critically to this universe of false words and beliefs. One-dimensional scraps of words are disembedded from their contexts, arranged in new forms and transferred to other contexts. This results in the transcendence of the bad and false reality (regarding content), and in references to this existing universe. The aesthetic dimension is essentially abstract, sometimes it seems like improvisation. It is not beautiful in a classical sense, but that should not be considered as a presupposition for the liberating character of music. On the other hand, also an atonality of music does not automatically result in a liberating character. The music the Goldenen Zitronen produce nowadays can not be consumed easily, you have to exert your mind and imagination, concentration on aesthetics and content is needed. And hence both of these elements form a complex unity that stimulates imagination and goes beyond the realm of necessity.

Neither each form, nor each content of cultural manifestations results in transcending imaginations that go beyond the existing totalitarian society. Popular culture is musically dominated by primitive types of disco- and techno-music which are important parts of the existing one-dimensional universe. This does neither automatically result from the fact that they are commodities just like all types of culture, nor from the fact that it is a mass product of consumption. It results from the one-dimensionality of its form and content. The content – if it exists – imitates the existing world and its language. The form is characterised by monotony and repetition of similar patterns that remind us of our miserable lives in capitalism and wage labour. The repetitive, hypnotic monotony of the music reflects the one of social existence and consciousness. Such cultural manifestations indeed transform – just like Marcuse said – culture into civilisation, they are affirmative types of culture that forestall all transcending imagination.

On the contrary we find various types of modern electronic music and of so-called post rock which strive towards an increase of their own complexity. E.g. the electronic and solely instrumental musical landscapes created by Mouse on Mars require attention and imagination, various levels of listening experience that temporarily harmonise and temporarily work against each other can be found in parallel. There are no unequivocal listening experiences for the recipients, each time different results in experience can be reached. The deepening into this music enables one to dive into other levels of experience that simulate fantasy and imagination. What shows up is freedom in a world of misery, slavery and exploitation. By transcending the existing totality, the future is anticipated. Mouse on Mars say and effect much more without words than all different types of one-dimensional music that rely on phrases and false language together. Post rock in its various types as represented by e.g. Labradford, Mogwai, Magnog, Godspeed You Black Emperor! or Tortoise relies on broken forms, surprises, the unexpected, the oscillation between intensification and vanishing, a play with silence and noise, the complexity of the forms. The form again requires concentration and imagination, it goes beyond the one-dimensional reproduction of ever repeating sounds, it stimulates imagination. The content in the sense of linguistic levels often vanishes completely. Post rock negates one-dimensional language by excluding words radically. Everything seems to be said in postfordist capitalism, the silence of the words expresses the disdain of bad and false reality. Quite often post rock means slowness, almost stand-still and vanishing (e.g. Low, Savoy Grand, Codeine, Cat Power, Tindersticks or Arab Strap). The aesthetic form negates social reality. People are confronted with global, ultra-fast flows of information and capital today that deprive them of their individuality and energy. Flexibility, adaptability, fast change and modernity are necessary  permanently – modernise or die. Leisure and labor are becoming identical, culture is almost total civilisation, free time means fitting in, relaxation becomes high-performance-sports. Post rock often is slow music, it puts a counterpoint to the permanent compulsions for acceleration and speed that subsume humans totally under capital.

In one-dimensional society, musical contents are susceptible to regressive, reactionary and anti-emancipatory elements. Schlager-music and nazi-rock are only two examples. But this does not mean that music as such is affirmative or regressive, but false music is a logical result of the false capitalist totality. Nonetheless form and content can reach a liberating character although they are also always elements of the totality of affirmative culture and elements of the containment of social change by mere escape from the bad reality and by their existence as medium of the regeneration of the physical and psychic abilities to work. I want to give you one example for musical contents that stimulate liberating aspects of imagination.

The contents of the songs of the band Blumfeld are lyrically structured and often refer to left-wing political topics. The latter element does not automatically result in a liberating musical character. What seems to be the important element to me is that a dialectical language is employed that goes beyond the existing one-dimensional universe of thinking and speaking. Blumfeld’s music needs mental discourse, imagination and own interpretations in order to be understood. This music makes sense and stimulates imagination by its contents, symbols, patterns, structures and dialectical language. Commercials impose meanings and images on commodities in order to sell them. What is wanted is not critical thinking of potential consumers, but stupid, reflex-like reactions of the objects. Commercials and mass culture make use of a manipulating language, they create new words in order to praise commodities and to sell them. The language of the people is essentially one-dimensional. A dialectical language on the contrary is a negating one as suggested by Marcuse. Such a language seems to be present in the musical lyrics of Blumfeld. The sentences negate predominating sentences, contents name social antagonisms. Here music is related to real life, but nonetheless its negating distance from the latter remains by its dialectic. Antagonisms in ones own existence, antagonisms of life in the existing totality and the state, antagonisms of love as a phenomenon that is coined by false society etc. Imagination that can anticipate a qualitative different society can be felt in form and content.

Some last words on culture: What seems to be problematic is not the occupation with art and culture and the search for liberation and politics of such manifestations. Cultures covers the totality of all ways of life of society. It is a reflection of concrete material relationships, but it unfolds own dimensions that can not be reduced to the economy or politics. Hence taking issue with culture, its aesthetic and its contents can throw light on the relationships of society. The politicisement of art/culture, the art of emancipatory politics – both is necessary. What is problematically is the reduction of political practice to a cultural level because – as Marcuse pointed out – non-affirmative culture is essentially alienated from political practice, it can present and anticipate imaginative pictures of liberation, it can anticipate the realm of freedom, stimulate imagination, emancipatory consciousness and needs can recognize themselves in art. For all of that, various cultural manifestations are useful, good and necessary – but they are no types of political practice. Emancipation is a social process of real life, liberation is an essentially practical process, one of social self-organisation. Post-modernist types of culturalism that objectify social liberation into commodities and consumption and see liberation as a part of the objectified dimension of commodities, are affirming existing society. Marcuse says that art can not change the world, but it can contribute to a change of consciousness and desires that can change the world (Marcuse 1977: 217).

 5. Conclusion

 Radical social change is very necessary today and on the foundation of the existing material condition an immediate jump into the real of freedom would be possible. The extensive totalitarianism of capitalist society reaches at the same time new dimensions, the potentially revolutionary subjects do not care about liberation or they have abandoned hope and utopias. The increasing bourgeois character of potentially revolutionary subjects – the process of Verbürgerlichung – can forestall social change for an unforeseeable time although it would be necessary to revolutionise society in order to get rid of the existing global problems and to establish a humane, true and socially and ecologically sustainable society that can put an end to the struggle for existence and artificially produced material and psychic poverty.

In this situation, Critical Theory, the works of Herbert Marcuse and their interpretation in relation to topical events and changes are very necessary. Marcuse’s dialectical categories of technology, democracy and culture also stress the liberating aspects of these categories. We must abolish the affirmative aspects and organise liberating technology, culture and democracy in the framework of a new society. It is all about a qualitatively different society that includes another technology, another culture, another democracy and another economy, i.e. about the excessive transformation of all areas of life and society. In order to accomplish this we need active, self-organising subjects whose consciousness and actions go beyond the existing false totality. This is not something impossible. Neither unlimited optimism, nor unlimited pessimism are advisable. What is decisive is the intervening power of self-organisation as part of a great refusal. In order to accomplish this a re-reading or first time-reading of Herbert Marcuse’s works can contribute in sustainable ways.


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[1] Another time Marx says e.g. that technology is the „most powerful instrument for shortening labour-time“ (Marx 1867, S. 430)

[2] For the difference between core- and peripheral-workers see Atkinson (1984: 14ff) and Atkinson/Gregory (1986: 14).

[3] In Postfordism we do not only have mass unemployment, but also precarious conditions of life for large parts of the world population. This is not only true for the Third World (which would be worse enough), there is also an increasing number of peripheral spaces in the metropolis of the capitalist world system. Neo-conservatism does not only result in the emergence of new job relationships, it also results in a worsening of the social situation and the situation of wage labor. It can be said that peripheral job relationships quite often have a precarious character today (Möller 1990). There is nothing new about these jobs, what we find is an old pattern: The betterment of the situation of capital at the expense of wage labor.

[4] We consider means of production, resources, decisions, social norms, laws, values and rules (the latter do not need to be codified, they can also be established in the form of traditions or habits) which are constituted during the course of social relationships of several individuals as social information. In all social systems and formations of society there are three manifestations of information: resources, decisions and norms/values. They store information about past social actions and simplify future social situations because by referring to social information the basics of acting socially do not have to be formed in each such situation. Social information can be seen as a durable foundation of social actions which nonetheless changes dynamically.


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