For journalist Matt Taibbi, Herbert Marcuse is a pseudo-intellectual at fault for much of what ails the contemporary left. But the real Marcuse was a serious thinker who remained committed to socialism and working-class struggle. In our moment of political defeat, his works like One-Dimensional Man are well worth revisiting.
Source: In Defense of Herbert Marcuse
The question of Marcuse has little importance at this point save to note his remarkable descant on Marxism and Freud, now dated. The issue he raises of the working class, and now identity politics, remain of crucial importance. The synthesis of marxism and Freud, who was no radical, never worked, and the constellation of many creative thinkers in the Marxist sphere is now fixed in the confusions of the starting point, Marx himself. Marcuse remains fascinating on his own terms, but the left must asap move on and simply ditch this legacy of secondary works on Marx, from Luckacs to Benjamin and a host of others
It was not clear to thinkers of the nineteenth century just how much pseudo-science was appearing in the wake of Newtonian physics, reductionist scientism and Darwin’s theory of evolution. Marx is one of the casualties and his entire labor is compromised by brittle theories of history, bad science, historicism, and Darwinian idiocy. To analyze history in terms of modes of production was a brilliant angle but to make it the key to a theory of history was destined to fail, as many noted from the start. Marx’s theories have been target practice for the right ever since. The left is incapable of getting unstuck here and moving on. That does not require rejecting a vast amount of other relevant material in Marx. But the idea of a directed sequence of feudalism, capitalism, and communism is bad theory and exactly the kind of misuse of theory as ideology that Marx so rightly criticized in others. Marx and Engels really produced one work that survives, the classic Communist Manifesto. But the whole lead weight of ponderous historical materialism is a liability for the transition to postcapitalism. And those theories confuse beginners ad infinitum and far too many turn away in frustration.
A theory of history is a big thing and so far beyond science and to pretend otherwise is propaganda.
I invite anyone who thinks a theory of history is to be had from economic fundamentalism or any other approach to study the material on the eonic effect, such as Decoding World History, with its clear cautions as to a science of history. History is in a category in itself and a science in the usual sense is completely beyond the capacity of science at this point. History is a subset inside the realm of planetary evolution and is super difficult, almost mysterious. But we can see in a glimpse what history/evolution really entails.
Quite apart from anything else reductionist causality applied to human agency turns historical theories into junk at once.
The larger problem is the failure of Darwinian evolution itself. But it is almost impossible to point to the failure of Darwinism to the intellectual class at this point. Many, to be sure, are too canny to protest what they know is bad theory in the sphere of that theory’s cancel culture.
The resolution of a new kind of left springs naturally from the eonic model as a simple form of periodization, one dare not be more ambitious than that. There the issue of capitalism is taken in a different way. The eonic effect doesn’t as such speak of epochs of history but it does suggest a solution to that obsession. World history shows three epochs in a strange sequence and more in a blurr, the Neolithic, and that is enough to study economic systems as they occur in a subprocess to historical evolution.
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The category of world history is an aspect of the larger evolution of organisms and the two together point to something almost staggeringly complex. How could it be otherwise: evolution is a ‘machine’ of unknown type operating over billions of years on the surface of a planet. Natural selection like the doctrine of the resurrection was a fantasy of levitation more than science. Science has come to such points itself: the brilliant set of physical laws in practice adjourns as with the three-body problem to approximate numerical solutions. World history shows a dynamic suggested by simple periodization, but there is no substitute for empirical maps of history.
The question of Marx’s theories has befuddled the left and it would be better to start over with a new and simpler approach, one not threatened step one with the charge of pseudo-science.
Marx and Engels beyond bad theory sensed the coming crisis of capitalism and in that they are more than justified by later history. But there is no automatic law of succession from capitalism to communism. A new left has to produce a new model of socialist culture and move to bring that about as free agents in history. History is just as liable to drift into barbarism and chaos in the chaotic false future of capitalism. The coming of the climate crisis and the place of capitalism in that horrific outcome demands some clear and practical thinking about how to create a society and economy that works and at every point marxism tends to give a bum steer to thinking in practical/constitutional terms about a functional socialism.