Marx’s mature critical theory, Marcuse, and post-Marcuse
Critical Theory, at least in the work of Herbert Marcuse, has always interpreted contemporary society by analyzing the internal relationship between the actual and the possible. This has meant determining the social resources that are present or are in development, which point the way toward freedom in a post-capitalist society. Recent works by economists, such as Race Against the Machine, and The Second Machine Age, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAffee, point to a new stage of digital and robotic technologies, which echoes as today’s reality or near-reality much of what Herbert Marcuse sketched as a distant but determinate possibility in the “Prospects of Containment” section of One-Dimensional Man. Moishe Postone, perhaps the most important theorist among the current generation of Critical Theorists, recognized Marcuse’s theoretical achievements, which included systematic analyses of the principal categories of what Postone has termed “Marx’s mature critical theory”. Hence Marcuse repeatedly interpreted and subjected to careful analysis in the context of contemporary developments not only Capital, but works unpublished in Marx’s lifetime, i.e. Grundrisse and Critique of the Gotha Programme. Yet, Postone, in revisiting that all-important relationship of the actual and the possible, critiques Marcuse’s social theory of one-dimensionality by developing Marx’s concept of an “intrinsic contradiction”: on the one hand, direct labor as the sole source of value (the specifically capitalist form of wealth), and on the other, the logic in capitalism for replacing direct labor through automation, in today’s terms, with digital technology and robots.