Friday, 18 April 2014
Herbert Marcuse on False Consciousness & Anti-Capitalists
Herbert Marcuse, in the traditional Marxist manner, believed that capitalism (or capitalists) had “integrated” the working class into the “capitalist system”. Marcuse also saw the working class - again like Marxists - as being a potentially “revolutionary force”.
Marcuse's idea that the working class had been “integrated into capitalism” displayed some classical middle-class Marxist arrogance and smugness. The assumption is that workers integrated into the capitalist system without any (non-Marxist) member of that class actually knowing that this is indeed the case.
Here there is also a Marxist assumption of two things:
i) That all members of the working class don't think for themselves about political matters. Or if they do so in a manner which is at odds with Marxist views and theories, then they simply must have 'false consciousness'.
ii) That no member of the working class would willingly and knowingly embrace capitalism as a result of a rational decision on his part. Or, if he did, it would be because he suffered from false - or non-Marxist - consciousness.
Such false consciousness is an absolutely essential part of Marxism. It helps middle-class Marxists explain why members of the working class (almost all of them) - as well as all the members of other “oppressed” groups - fail to embrace Marxism. Alternatively, only false consciousness can explain - so Marxists think - how such people “work against their own best interests” (as defined, of course, by middle-class Marxists).
Marcuse too imbibed the Marxist notion of false consciousness. He particularly focused on the idea (as other Marxists, such as the Frankfurt School, had done before him) that “advanced industrial society” creates false needs, false desires and false beliefs in order to create legions of (non-Marxist) “passive subjects” and mindless consumers. And of course the very idea that all non-Marxists are the victims of false consciousness must mean that all these “subjects of capitalism” (or cogs in the machine) must – by Marxist definition - have false needs, false desires and, of course, false beliefs.
In order to insure such false needs, false desires and false beliefs, the “capitalist elite” must control the media, advertising and so on; as well as, more importantly, control what it is that all non-Marxists think (though the former controls the latter).
However, when Marcuse - as well as contemporary Chomskyites – talked about the platonic Media and its total control of the minds of all non-Marcusians (or non-Chomskyites today), he didn't just mean the evil “right-wing press” or even the press in its entirety. He also meant - as did Theodor Adorno before him - Hollywood and television generally. That is, everything that was classed by the Frankfurt School as “the culture industry”.
Thus it can be seen that all that is non-Marxist (or non- "revolutionary”) is automatically part of Das System and therefore deemed suspect by Marcuse and all other Leftists. (The Frankfurt School also castigated cinema, jazz, and light entertainment; just as Chomsky today has a strong hatred for soccer and soaps.)
Thus this massive Marxist conspiracy theory actually contains two smaller theories within it:
i) That all non-Marxists are monumentally stupid and devoid of free will (except those non-Marxists who are also “exploitative capitalists”).
ii) That all capitalists conspire - often together - to bring about exactly what the Marxists say they have brought about: a society made up entirely of “sheeple” (to use the smug contemporary word) whose only concern is to consume and obey. (Middle-class Leftists, of course, aren't sheeple.)
Fantastically, according to Marcuse (as well as Chomsky today), this massive system of hidden indoctrination has the result that no non-Marxist/Leftist has any negative views about capitalism or the government and never offers either a critique of - or opposition to – any current realities. Again, only Marxists/Leftists are capable of doing that job.
And if you think that Marcuse (as well as Chomsky today) didn't patronise the working class enough with all that, he also classed all non-Marxists/Leftists – you and I! - as being cases of his “one dimensional man”. That is, capitalist society is a one-dimensional society which creates one-dimensional men and women like you and I.
Clearly this level of Leftist condescension - or patronisation - is both staggering and nauseating. However, it would perhaps loose some of its power to repulse if it had already been assigned to the dustbin of Marxist history. Yet this is exactly what Chomsky - as well as thousands of Chomsky's automatons - believes today. Yes, if you aren't a Marcusian (or Chomskyite), you must automatically be a sheeple or a “one-dimensional man”. That is unless, of course, you’re an evil capitalist and then you'll have the privilege of controlling at least some of those sheeples or one-dimensional men.
My Enemy's Enemy is My Friend
Like contemporary Trotskyists/progressives, Marcuse embraced all the 'enemies' of capitalism no matter who or what they were. Or, in the well-known phrase: the enemies or Marcuses's enemies were automatically his friends. (National Socialists are of course the enemies of Western democratic capitalism; though I doubt that Marcuse would have embraced them – primarily because they were white. (1)) This means, for example, that Marcuse embraced movements, groups and individuals which in many respects mutually contradicted one another. However, they didn't mutually contradict each other in the respect that they were all against Western capitalism (which was not always true anyway). And that was all that mattered to Marcuse. (For example, he embraced the violent and ideologically fanatical Vietcong alongside pacifist and easy-going American hippies.)
What would have also united all these disparate “anti-capitalist” groups (besides their being anti-capitalist), was that they were all deemed, by Marcuse, to be minorities and “outsiders”. Any minority would have done the trick as long as they were minorities or outsiders.
1) There would have been exceptions to Marcuse's embracing of minorities and “outsiders”: white Nazis, white racists, etc. But what of black racists? Sure, he embraced them. What of violent and misogynist black groups? Sure, he embrace them too (just as Marxists today embrace racist, misogynist and violent Muslims). You see, as long as these minorities and outsiders are anti-capitalist (even when they aren't specifically or explicitly anti-capitalist), then Leftists will embrace them in some kind of broad church of anti-capitalists; which included, in Marcuse's case, hippies and psychotically violent Marxist and black groups. As I said, contemporary Leftists embrace Muslim Brotherhood groups, misogynists, terrorists, groomers, those who sanction rape, the killing of schoolchildren, etc. Hell, who cares? They're all “anti-capitalist” and anti-West.
2) Like most Leftists/Marxists, Marcuse was a utopian. However, many Leftists, unlike Marcuse, believe that utopia can only be brought about by totalitarian means. Of course such Leftists neither use the word “utopian” nor the word “totalitarian' to describe what they want and how they intend to bring it about.