Monday, March 3, 2014

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.

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