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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Baran/Marcuse in current Monthly Review: Fromm's "boot-licking", or critique of 1950s Marcuse's Hegel interpretations?

Monthly Review this month published some of the 1950s-60s correspondence between Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse and Left economist, Paul Baran. 

The following quotes a passage from one of Bran's letters to Marcuse, which trashes Erich Fromm's 1961 Marx's Concept of Man. This is followed by Russell Rockwell's contrasting interpretation of Fromm's work, explaining his implicit harsh critique of Marcuse's recent interpretations of Hegel.

From March 1, 2014 Monthly Review
Baran/Marcuse Correspondence

Paul Baran letter to Herbert Marcuse
July 11, 1961
Big Sur, California
Dear Herbert,
...Your remark that even the most ossified Marxism is these days a fountain of truth 

compared with what parades as social science and philosophy was to me a particularly à 

propos since I had just finished reading the Introduction by Fromm to a paperback edition 

of Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (Marx’s Concept of Man, New York, 

1961).14 You must have a look at this thing, if you haven’t yet. This outpouring of 

Fromm’s setzt wirklich dem Fass die Krone [really tops it all off]. After Mr. Strachey and 

Co. have turned the old man into a meritorious—if somewhat confused—predecessor of 

Keynes and Gaitskill, Mr. Fromm promotes him to a follower of Meister Eckhart and to a 

Zen Buddhist thus providing him with the distinction of having anticipated no less a figure 

than Erich Fromm himself.15 On all of the 80 pages of the rubbish that he wrote about 

Marx—in order to acquaint the American public with thoughts of “that great thinker”—

Fromm managed not to mention once the class struggle, not to use once the word 

revolution, not to say anything about the development of the forces of production, about 

antagonistic interests. I don’t think that I have ever read anything as scandalous and at 

the same time as manifestly dishonest. The fellow falsifies outright, misquotes, garbles. 

Even by the current standards the whole thing is an absolute outrage. By the way, since 

he finds it expedient to lick your boots on a couple of occasions, it would be most 

desirable if you reviewed this thing somewhere. Rejecting positivism is one thing, 

sinking into the mud of mysticism is another. And surely there is nothing that is more 

conducive to discrediting Marx in the eyes of such young people who at least potentially 

might begin to understand something than exposing them to the gibberish that Mr. Fromm 

has the temerity to call Marxism.

From Russell Rockwell,  Presentation at November 2013 International Marcuse Conference, Lexington, KY.

It is well-known that in an appendix to his work Eros and Civilization, Marcuse launched a polemic against Fromm’s theory development, including works Fromm had written while both he and Marcuse were still members of the ISR.  For example, Marcuse cites the article, “The Social Conditions of Psychoanalytical Therapy”, Fromm published in the ISR journal in 1935.[1] Marcuse suggests that Fromm begins to argue that happiness can be found within the given society, hence conflating Critical Theory and social conformity. Since the social relevance of Critical Theory resided in its ability to sharpen the edges of psychology and sociology to enhance their critical function, this was indeed a stinging assertion. What might be less well-known is that Marcuse offers high praise for earlier articles Fromm published in 1932-1934. Marcuse argues that there is a fundamental distinction between Fromm’s earlier and later articles. In the earlier ones Fromm demonstrated the “explosive” potential of instinctual structures defined by Freud: when social conditions change to undermine the “patricentric, acquisitive culture”, the functions of instinctual structures change as well—“they cease to be the cement and instead become the dynamite”. [2]
Yet, Marcuse’s critique of the social relevance and trajectory of Fromm’s theory may have served to divert attention from a major change in the trajectory and social relevance of his own theory. And Fromm was eventually to bring this to the attention of his readers in his 1961 work, “Marx’s Concept of Man”. [3] Marcuse’s early 1930s work and many of his writings through Reason and Revolution (where an entire section on the “abolition of labor” was included) clearly suggested the need for a serious reexamination of Hegel’s philosophy. This was in the context of unanswered questions concerning revolutionary praxis, principally labor.
Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization chapter, titled “Philosophical Interlude”, suggested something different. [4] Marcuse indicated Hegel’s continuity with the development of Western philosophy generally, rather than the incorporation and transcendence of this tradition associated with Hegelian-Marxian dialectic. Marcuse, much more so than in his earlier works, conceived Hegel’s Logic as continuous in essential ways with the logic of domination that evolved slowly since Aristotle. [5] In Eros and Civilization, in the context of his development of Freud’s analysis of Western civilization, especially his concepts of the performance and pleasure principles, Marcuse analyzed the evolving idea of reason as historically and increasingly antagonistic to those, “faculties and attitudes that are receptive rather than productive”. [6] Marcuse wrote:
Reason is to ensure, through the ever more effective transformation and exploitation of nature, the fulfillment of human potentialities. But in the process, the ends seem to recede before the means: the time devoted to alienated labor absorbs the time for individual needs—and define the needs themselves. The logos shows forth as the logic of domination…Hegel’s presentation of his system in his Encyclopedia ends on the word ‘enjoys’. The philosophy of  western civilization culminates in the idea that the truth lies in the negation of the principle that governs this civilization—negation in the twofold sense that freedom appears as real only in the idea, and that the endlessly projecting and transcending productivity of being comes to fruition in the perpetual peace of self-conscious receptivity.” [7]
            A section of Fromm‘s 1961 work, Marx’s Concept of Man might be understood as a response to this shift in Marcuse’s theoretical trajectory. It represents a turn-about in the question of the social relevance of Critical Theory, this time of Marcuse’s in place of Fromm’s. In Marx’s Concept of Man (“The Nature of Man”, Part 2 on “Man’s Self-Activity”), Fromm begins by stating that Marx’s concept of man is rooted in Hegel’s thinking. [8] But instead of elaborating on this thought himself, Fromm quotes at length from Marcuse’s Reason and Revolution on Hegel’s Science of Logic, where Marcuse wrote that the task of the dialectical thinker is to, “distinguish the essential from the apparent process of reality and to grasp their relation…the world is an estranged and untrue world so long as man does not destroy its dead objectivity and recognize himself and his own life ‘behind’ the fixed form of things and laws. When he finally wins this self-consciousness, he is on his way not only to the truth of himself, but also of his world. And with the recognition goes the doing. He will try to put this truth into action and make the world what it essentially is, namely, the fulfillment of man’s self-consciousness.” [9]
Thus an interesting aspect of Fromm’s analysis of Hegel’s philosophy in Marx’s Concept of Man is that it refers several times to Marcuse’s Reason and Revolution to support his own versus Marcuse’s position in their debate over Freud’s theories and psychoanalysis at the time of publication of Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization. For example, Fromm interprets the passage (quoted above) from Marcuse in the following: “For Hegel the development of individual powers, capacities and potentialities is possible only by continuous action, never by sheer contemplation or receptivity…In as much as man is not productive, in as much as he is receptive and passive, he is nothing, he is dead. In this productive process, man realizes his own essence, he returns to his own essence.” [10]

[1] Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization, A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud, 1st  Vintage ed. (1955; repr.; New York: Vintage, 1962), 222.
[2] Ibid., 221.
[3] Erich Fromm, Marx’s Concept of Man (1961; repr., New York: Continuum, 1961).
[4] Marcuse, Eros and Civilization, 96-114.
[5] Ibid., 102-103.
[6] Ibid., 101.
[7] Ibid., 101, 105. Compare Marcuse’s analysis of the final paragraph of Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind here with Hegel’s introduction to the Philosophy of Mind, which covers the same ground, though in much more detail. (We analyzed this part of the Introduction in the section above, “Genesis or Dawn—What Happens After?”). In the first of the two paragraphs that comprise the “Subdivision” of the Introduction (385 and 386), Hegel summarizes Mind as Subjective (freedom), Objective (necessity), and Absolute (unity of freedom and necessity). In the final paragraph 386, Hegel intimates that Subjective and Objective Mind (taken up in paragraph 385) are both merely “finite”, and only Absolute Mind is “infinite”. No stronger case can be made than Hegel makes himself here, that he did not ultimately confine “liberation” to thought alone.  Rather, he demonstrated that any theory (and practice) short of freedom’s social realization merely reflects, “A rigid application of finitude by the abstract logician…in dealing with Mind and reason…it is held not a mere matter of logic, but treated also as a moral and religious concern, to adhere to the point of finitude, and the wish to go further is reckoned a mark of audacity, in not of insanity, of thought…philosophy for the concrete forms, has merely to show that the finite is not, i.e. is not the truth, but merely a transition and an emergence to something higher” .
[8] Fromm, Marx’s Concept of Man, 26.
[9] Ibid;, 26-27.
[10] Ibid;, 29-30.


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    1. Excuse me for taking so long to respond to your comment;have you by chance ever looked at Neil Mclaughlin's piece on Fromm--how to become a forgotten intellectual'?It's a very interesting dialectical analysis one f critical social theory and social conformity