Skip to main content

Herbert Marcuse on Paul Baran’s Critique of Modern Society and of the Social Sciences

Paul Baran and Herbert Marcuse's (author of One Dimensional Man) friendship went back to their days together at the Institute for Social Research (the foundational school of critical theory in the social sciences, which led to the future establishment of The New School For Social Research in NYC, and became the intellectual impetus for spawning the 'New Left' in the US - for more on this, see here) in Frankfurt in pre-Hitler Germany. Their close connection is revealed in a series of letters they wrote to each other in the 1950s and early ’60s (posted this month on the Monthly Review website).

From John Bellamy Foster:
The following talk, delivered only days after the publication of Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order by Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Marcuse reveals his admiration for Baran’s article on “The Commitment of the Intellectual.”Marcuse also provides his understanding of the critical importance of Baran’s notion of economic surplus, as introduced in The Political Economy of Growth and its significance for the critique of monopoly capital. This throws light on Marcuse’s own use of the concept of monopoly capitalism, which is frequently mentioned in his work (see for example his Counter-Revolution and Revolt).
Marcuse criticizes Baran for rejecting—in “Marxism and Psychoanalysis”—the use of psychological terms and for distancing himself from Freudian psychoanalysis and its left interpretations. Marcuse was clearly disappointed (as he indicated in a letter to Baran on September 22, 1959, where he commented on the galleys to Baran’s article) that Baran had not embraced the kind of argument he himself had put forward in Eros and Civilization. Nevertheless, it is worth adding that Baran—as Marcuse no doubt understood and as their own correspondence reveals—was far from simply rejecting psychological issues out of hand. Baran’s essay on psychoanalysis was aimed at the critique of what he called “psychologism” and “social psychologism”—and not psychology and social psychology. He insisted in this respect that what was needed was a more revolutionary social psychology—that took into account as its initial datum the structure of capitalist society as a whole. He sought to push this view forward near the end of his life through the critique of the cultural apparatus, overlapping in this way with the concerns of such thinkers as Marcuse, Fromm, Williams, and Mills. (See the special July-August 2013 issue of Monthly Review on “The Cultural Apparatus of Monopoly Capital”). To the end Baran remained an uncompromising critic of the narrow economic rationalism of monopoly-capitalist society and the damaging effect that it exerted on the material existence, culture, and consciousness of humanity.
Read rest here.


Popular posts from this blog

What is the 'Classical Dichotomy'?

A few brief comments on Brexit and the postmortem of the European Union

Another end of the world is possible
There will be a lot of postmortems for the European Union (EU) after Brexit. Many will suggest that this was a victory against the neoliberal policies of the European Union. See, for example, the first three paragraphs of Paul Mason's column here. And it is true, large contingents of working class people, that have suffered with 'free-market' economics, voted for leaving the union. The union, rightly or wrongly, has been seen as undemocratic and responsible for the economics woes of Europe.

The problem is that while it is true that the EU leaders have been part of the problem and have pursued the neoliberal policies within the framework of the union, sometimes with treaties like the Fiscal Compact, it is far from clear that Brexit and the possible demise of the union, if the fever spreads to France, Germany and other countries with their populations demanding their own referenda, will lead to the abandonment of neoliberal policies. Aust…

A brief note on Venezuela and the turn to the right in Latin America

So besides the coup in Brazil (which was all but confirmed by the last revelations, if you had any doubts), and the electoral victory of Macri in Argentina, the crisis in Venezuela is reaching a critical level, and it would not be surprising if the Maduro administration is recalled, even though right now the referendum is not scheduled yet.

The economy in Venezuela has collapsed (GDP has fallen by about 14% or so in the last two years), inflation has accelerated (to three digit levels; 450% or so according to the IMF), there are shortages of essential goods, recurrent energy blackouts, and all of these aggravated by persistent violence. Contrary to what the press suggests, these events are not new or specific to left of center governments. Similar events occurred in the late 1980s, in the infamous Caracazo, when the fall in oil prices caused an external crisis, inflation, and food shortages, which eventually, after the announcement of a neoliberal economic package that included the i…