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Colin Barker

One-Dimensional Book

(Summer 1965)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.21, Summer 1965, p.30.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

One-Dimensional Man
Herbert Marcuse
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 42s.

Anything by Professor Marcuse is always interesting, and often a pleasure to read. But ... Modern society, in his eye, is tending more and more towards ‘one-dimensional’ modes of living and thought. Everyone is becoming ‘integrated’ into the system; the philosophers, the sociologists and the rest have abandoned ‘critical thought’ and employ only ‘operational definitions’ which start from the acceptance of capitalist values, or they chase irrelevancies. The trade-union movement is ‘integrated’, or nearly so. ‘Mystification’ is almost total. The world drives blindly on towards war, and no one protests; the only challenge of any sort comes from ‘the substratum of outcasts and outsiders’ (the American Negro) or in the hopeless forms of Zen or existentialism, which offer no real challenge to the irrationality of ‘technological rationality’. Society is a closed system, the universe is totalitarian, and despair is the only acceptable response. We are manipulated and propagandised to the point where we can no longer break out of the circle, for we see nothing to break out from. We live in unfreedom, and we are content with slavery. Freedom of choice is nothing but freedom to choose between brands. Horror is defused by the language we speak – ‘megadeaths’, ‘clean bombs’ and the like. The ‘people’, once seen as die force that would change society, are now nothing but well-fed, obscurely unhappy accepters. It’s not far from 1984. Marcuse’s pessimistic thesis is reinforced by a highly biased selection of examples from social science, philosophy, literature, etc. No other aspects ever appear: Elton Mayo’s is the only sociology of industry, there are no unofficial strikes, there was no Hungarian Revolution, the class struggle is over. There’s no case, it’s true, for outright optimism; but this narrow pessimism, that ignores everything that contradicts it, leads in the end to straight soppiness, however well expressed. Marcuse sees – and describes well – much that is wrong with the system. But his coins have one side only.

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Last updated: 14 April 2010