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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

2014 Article in Counterpunch on International Marcuse Society Conference, Lexington, KY

The Concrete Distress of Human Existence

Herbert Marcuse and Absolute Struggle in 2013

“One can delineate the domain of philosophy however one likes, but in its search for truth, philosophy is always concerned with human existence.  Authentic philosophizing refuses to remain at the stage of knowledge […].  Care for human existence and its truth makes philosophy a ‘practical science’ in the deepest sense, and it also leads philosophy—and this is the crucial point—into the concrete distress of human existence.”
– Herbert Marcuse, “On Concrete Philosophy” (1929)
[A] major event at the conference was Professor Richard Wolin’s keynote address on “Marcuse and the New Left: Emancipatory Violence as a Problem of Political Philosophy.”  Wolin, author of Heidegger’s Children and co-editor of a collection of Marcuse’s writings from his period of study with Martin Heidegger,Heideggerian Marxism, used his comments to discuss a brief period in the 1960′s when Marcuse is said to have flirted with the concepts of revolutionary violence and of a transitional dictatorship away from capitalism (1964-1968).

According to Wolin, Marcuse must have felt the risks of such a dictatorship to be less than those associated with liberal or Stalinist regimes; the speaker even cited Marcuse’s declaration in Eros and Civilization that, “From Plato to Rousseau, the only honest answer is the idea of an educational dictatorship, exercised by those who are supposed to have acquired knowledge of the real Good.”  Curiously, though, Wolin failed to include Marcuse’s next sentence in his comments refuting the idea: “The answer has since become obsolete: knowledge of the available means for creating a humane existence for all is no longer confined to a privileged elite.”

During the afternoon of the conference’s second day, I attended a panel on “Marcuse, Marx, and Marxisms,”... Russell Rockwell, co-editor of the recently published Dunayevskaya-Marcuse-Fromm Correspondence, 1954-1978 (2013), presented on the trajectories and intersections of the Marxisms advanced by Marcuse and critical psychoanalyst Erich Fromm respectively.  Against established trends which would largely suppress consideration of Fromm’s significant contributions to the nascent Institute for Social Research, Rockwell explained how Fromm felt psychoanalysis could productively serve as a complement to Marxian economism, and he mentioned Fromm’s 1929 lecture to the Institute of Psychoanalysis which cited Marx favorably.  He also brought up Fromm’s 1929 psychological study of workers in Weimar Germany, which was rejected for publication with the Institute for Social Research for practical political considerations—it held that some three-quarters of the German working population would not resist Hitler if he seized power, while only an estimated 15 percent had personality structures which Fromm felt would lead them to actively resist him.  Indeed, the work did not see the light of day for over five decades.  Rockwell stressed that both Fromm and Marcuse shared an interest in the humanism of the young Marx, unlike most of the rest of the theorists associated with the Frankfurt School.