Werner Bonefeld, book review of Feindanalysen, Ueber die Deutschen, in: Capital & Class, Summer 77(2002), 152-156
to Nachgelassene Schriften page, Herbert Marcuse homepage
Werner Bonefeld, a member of CSE, is the editor of The Politics of Europe: Monetary Union and Class, St. Martins Press, 2001. He teaches at the Department of Politics, University of York.
Herbert Marcuse: "Feindanalysen. Über die Deutschen". Zu Klampen-Verlag, Lüneburg 1998. 148 p., 24DM; ca. 8 pounds
This is the first edition of previously unpublished essays by Herbert Marcuse. The essays were written between 1939 and 1947 and some originated during his work for the Office of Strategic Services, the political section of the Office of War Information. The book is edited by Peter-Erwin Jansen whose Preface (pp. 7-10) supplies good background information. Detlev Clausen's introduction (pp. 11-20) contextualises the book well, both in terms, of Marcuse's relationship to the Institute of Social Research and in terms of the book's main thrust. Apart from the Preface and Introduction, the book consists of eight chapters of differing lenghts, ranging from five pages (chapter 3 'On psychological Neutrality'; and chapter 5, 'War-and Post-War Generation) to 51 pages (chapter I 'The New German Mentality').
Marcuse analyses German conditions. Yet, this is more than just an analysis of Nazism. In fact, he sees his analysis as an attempt to understand the transition from the liberal era of so-called laisser-faire capitalism to what might be called for reasons of brevity, an 'organised' capitalism. In cahpten 7 ('33 Thesen', written in 1947), he charts that the postwar world is divided into a neo-fascist capitalist west (!) and the eastern soviet bloc. He sees both the East and the West, as enemies of revolution, of human emacipation. His view of the capitalist west in terms of neo-fascism is based on the insight that Nazi Germany was not an exception but merely an extreme example of this transition.
He analyses this transition in 'The New German Mentality'. According to Marcuse, this new mentality consists of a combination of pragmatism and mythology. Pragmatism in his account relates to the political attempt to remove all obstacles and barriers, whatever they might be, to the technological modernisation of society. The new ideology of this attempt is 'effectiveness', efficiency, and 'economy'.
By mythology, he understands not just Nazi paganism but also the espousal of Social-Darwinism and indeed the embrace of the political as the primary instance of the new order where all and everything is not only measured in terms of its efficient and effective contribution to economic growth but, also, organised according to these same economic criteria. The Nazic state amount them to an organised, technocratic capitalism. Technocracy is mere1y interested in 'problem-solving'. It seeks pragmatic solutions to given prob1ems and detests any questioning of their social constitution and meaning. It does, as he shows, not differentiate between true and untrue, wrong and right good and bad, human and inhuman. Instead; it only recognises pragmatic ends and inadequate and/on adequate means to achieve these ends. Technocracy, then, amounts to the rational organisation of those conditions which render the human being a wretched economic resource, a labouring commodity. Auschwitz, as Adorno reminds us, not only confirme d the violence of the bourgeois relations of abstract equality and abstract identity. It also confirmed the bourgeois exchange relations of pure identity as death. Marcuse argues in similar terms. The new German mentality amounts to a highly rationalised social form of capitalist organisation and this social form will not disappear with Nazism because it belongs firmly to a capitalistically constituted form off social reproduction which is not identical with Nazism but of which Nazism was the most aggressive expression.
Marcus argues against totalitarian interpretations of Nazism. For him, such interpretations are at best extremely dubious (see chapter 4, The Social and Political Aspects of Nationalsocialism Instead, and this is the most intriguing aspect of his analysis, Nazism is said to have espoused the atomised individual that is the so much coveted individual of economic liberalism. Nazism, he shows, sought to improve theradaptability, flexibility, efficiency, effectiveness and utility of the individual so that it operates and functions well and with initiative and energy, in full recognition of its duty, that is to labour without even so much as a whisper. In Nazism then, the masses are only accepted as masses for as long as they are constituted as atomised individual who will do what is asked of them effectively, efficiently and economically. These three 'E' s' do not stand in isolation to each other. They are based on ethical commitments to duty, honour and resposibility. Each individual is 'duty-bound' to behave not on ly responsibly but also, and because of this, as a responsible risk taken: the individual of Nazism is conceived as a bearer of skills and knowledge that are ready for use whatever the end.
Marcuse's analysis seems to find an echo in the contemporary notion of the state as a competition state'. Whatever this suspect term might mean, Nazism's stage-regulated and organised individua-lised individual seems to stand in sharp contrast to today's deregulated market individual. However, when looked at closely, deregulation shows itself to be the direct opposite from what it proclaims, that is the harsh and disciplinarian control of the labour process and labour market. This regulation, concerning Nazism, was backed up by terror so that all those who are lovingly embraced never forget that national love cannot do without mistrust and suspicion, so that all those who are lovingly embraced are also systematically watched and observed-just in case! According to Marcuse, it was the fear of the catastrophe that the collapse of the Nazi regime would bring forth, that sustained the regime.
What about Marcuse's revolutionary zeal? In chapter 7 ('33 Thesis'), Marcuse already mentions marginalised social groups as the new revolutionary constituent power. He later develops this idea in his One Dimensional Man. In chapter 8 ('Is a free society possible?'), he argues that if the human being is a thinking being and if thought is the site of truth, then the human being has to possess the freedom to be led by thought in order to realise what is recognised as truth, namely that the human being is not a resource but a purpose. Such realisation and recognition is, of course, deeply disconcerting for existing powers. Nazism was, following Marcuse, a response to this. The response was in two forms. First, the Nazi state promised to take on the working class in order to decompose entrenched class positions and render it responsive to employers' commands. He comments that individual capitalists did not dare to risk this confrontation with labour themselves. This, then, politicised the economic relations and le d to the collapse of the bourgeois separation between the economic and political within the capitalist social relations themselves. The politicisation did not repress' the freedom of individual capitalists, as claimed by the theory of totalitarianism. Instead, it amounted to the most aggressive reorganisation of their command over labour, including the political organisation of the 'market' in terms of the access to raw material, the scrapping of labour through work and poison gas, and of Lebensraum, i.e. imperial conquest. The pacification of labour through means of terror was the condition for this conquest and as such, a condition for the hoped for return of German capital as a global force.
Secondly, Nazism's promise to eliminate obstacles to the 'resourceful' exploitation of labour, took cynical advantage of the anti-liberal argument that bourgeois relations of respectability and equality and of representative democracy amount to no more than a smokescreen which hides the real relations of power, that is in particular the power of money. In short, the Nazis espoused the capitalist view of the world in terms of a competitive struggle in which only the fittest and most mighty and efficient competitors survive. In sum, Marcuse argues that capital accepted Nazism because it promised a political solution to economic problems, leading to the politicisation of the economic and that is the directly political character of exploitation. For Marcuse, the terrorist disciplining of labour and the atomised individual of Nazism embody the repressive tendency of a greedy society whose constituted principle of exploitation rests on robbery. Nazism rendered this basis of exploitation its organising rule. It soug ht to provide Lebensraum for the employers' initiative. We know what this meant and we know how many were killed. Marcuse's analysis of Nazi-Germany contains the reminder that the espousal of the individual as an effective and efficient bearer of economic functions is not a recent invention. Then as now, critical theory has the obligation to articulate the untruth of the existing society. Critical theory, as Marcuse argues in this book, is the enemy of relativism, is repulsed by a 'left' project that seeks reconciliation with a capitalist world, and rejects revolutionary rhetoric as a substitute for critical thought. Critical theory, he charges, takes serious the insight that determination means negation. Paraphrasing Marcuse, technocracy views everything that is not backed up by facts, as an ideological matter. Critical theory in contrast dares to dream of a better, a human world. It breathes freely.
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