Marcuse (1991). The Closing of the Political Universe. (One-Dimensional Man.)

Marcuse, H. (1991). The Closing of the Political Universe. In One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (Second edition, pp. 21–58). Oxon, UK and New York: Routledge.

[“Containment Of Social Change” (p 24) …]

“The classical Marxian theory envisages the transition from capitalism to socialism as a political revolution: the proletariat destroys the _political_ apparatus of capitalism but retains the _technological_ apparatus, subjecting it to socialization.” (p 24)

“Its supreme promise is an ever-more-comfortable life for an ever-growing number of people who, in a strict sense, cannot imagine a qualitatively different universe of discourse and action, for the capacity to contain and manipulate subversive imagination and effort is an integral part of the given society.” (p 26)

“Within the technological ensemble, mechanized work in which automatic and semiautomatic reactions fill the larger part (if not the whole) of labor time remains, as a life-long occupation, exhausting, stupefying, inhuman slavery — even more exhausting because of increased speed-up, control of the machine operators (rather than of the product), and isolation of the workers from each other.4” (p 27)

“According to Marx, the machine never creates value but merely transfers its own value to the product, while surplus value remains the result of the exploitation of living labor.” (p 31)

“‘… industrialization did not arise with the introduction of factories, it ‘arose out of the measurement of work. …’ 16” (p 32)

“The same technological organization which makes for a mechanical community at work also generates a larger interdependence which18 integrates the worker with the plant. One notes an ‘eagerness’ on the part of the workers ‘to share in the solution of production problems,’ a ‘desire to join actively in applying their own brains to technical and production problems which clearly fitted in with the technology.’19” (p 33)

“With technical progress as its instrument, unfreedom — in the sense of man’s subjection to his productive apparatus — is perpetuated and intensified in the form of many liberties and comforts. … For in reality, neither the utilization of [page break] administrative rather than physical controls (hunger, personal dependence, force), nor the change in the character of heavy work, nor the assimilation of occupational classes, nor the equalization in the sphere of consumption compensate for the fact that the decisions over life and death, over personal and national security are made at places over which the individuals have no control. The slaves of developed industrial civilization are sublimated slaves, but they are slaves, for slavery is determined

“‘pas par l’obéissance, ni par la rudesse des labeurs, mais par le statu d’instrument et la réduction de l’homme à l’état de chose.’23

“This is the pure form of servitude: to exist as an instrument, as a thing. … Conversely, as reification tends to become totalitarian by virtue of its technological form, the organizers and administrators themselves become increasingly dependent on the machinery which they organize and administer. And this mutual dependence is no longer the dialectical relationship between Master and Servant, which has been broken in the struggle for mutual recognition, but rather a vicious circle which encloses both the Master and the Servant.” (p 35-36)

[“Prospects Of Containment” (p 37) …]

“But with all its truth, the argument cannot answer the time-honored question: who educates the educators, and where is the proof that they are in possession of ‘the good?'” (p 44)

“The more the rulers are capable of delivering the goods of consumption, the more firmly will the underlying population be tied to the various ruling bureaucracies.” (p 46)

“… is there any evidence that the former colonial or semi-colonial areas might adopt a way of industrialization essentially different from capitalism and present-day communism? Is there anything in the indigenous culture and tradition of these areas which might indicate such an alternative? I shall confine my remarks to models of backwardness already in the process of industrialization — that is, to countries where industrialization coexists with an unbroken pre- and anti-industrial culture (India, Egypt).” (p 49)

“Can one reasonably assume that, under the impact of the two great systems of total technological administration, the dissolution of this resistance will proceed in liberal and democratic forms? That the underdeveloped countries can make the historical leap from the pre-technological to the post-technological society, in which the mastered technological apparatus may provide the basis for a genuine democracy? On the contrary, it rather seems that the superimposed development of these countries will bring about a period of total administration more violent and more rigid than that traversed by the advanced societies which can build on the achievements of the liberalistic era. To sum up: the backward areas are likely to succumb either to one of the various forms of neo-colonialism, or to a more or less terroristic system of primary accumulation.” (p 50)

“However, another alternative seems possible.37 If industrialization and the introduction of technology in the backward countries encounter strong resistance from the indigenous and traditional modes of life and labor — a resistance which is not abandoned even at the very tangible prospect of a better and [page break] easier life — could this pre-technological tradition itself become the source of progress and industrialization?” (p 50-51)

“Such indigenous progress would demand a planned policy which, instead of superimposing technology on the traditional modes of life and labor, would extend and improve them on their own grounds, eliminating the oppressive and exploitative forces (material and religious) which made them incapable of assuring the development of a human existence.” (p 51)

“If this is the case, then conditions would prevail which do not exist in the old and advanced industrial societies (and never existed there) — namely, the ‘immediate producers’ themselves would have the chance to create, by their own labor and leisure, their own progress and determine its rate and direction.” (p 51)

[“The Welfare And Warfare State” (p 52) …]

“Advertising, public relations, indoctrination, planned obsolescence are no longer unproductive overhead costs but rather elements of basic production costs. In order to be effective, such production of socially necessary waste requires continuous rationalization — the relentless utilization of advanced techniques and science.” (p 52)

“The growing productivity of labor creates an increasing surplus product which, whether privately or centrally appropriated and distributed, allows an increased consumption — notwithstanding the increased diversion of productivity. As long as this constellation prevails, it reduces the use-value of freedom; there is no reason to insist on self-determination if the administered life is the comfortable and even the ‘good’ life.” (p 53)

Selected Notes

  • 4 See Charles Denby, “Workers Battle Automation” (News and Letters, Detroit, 1960).
  • 15 Automation and Major Technological Change, Joe. cit., p. 8.
  • 16 Ibid.
  • 18 Floyd C. Mann and L. Richard Hoffman, Automation and the Worker. A Study of Social Change in Power Plants (New York, Henry Holt: 1960), p. 189.
  • 19 Charles R. Walker, loc. cit., p. 213f.
  • 23 “neither by obedience nor by hardness of labor but by the status of being a mere instrument, and the reduction of man to the state of a thing.” François Perroux, La Coexistence pacifique (Paris, Presses Universitaires, 1958), vol. III, p. 600.
  • 37 For the following see the magnificent books by René Dumont, especially Terres vivantes (Paris: Plon, 1961).
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