Marcuse on the student movement

Malinovich: In a debate with Raymond Aron in the New Statesman, somewhere around 1971, you said that a radical transformation of values is taking place before your eyes. And you were speaking about an overcoming of aggressive, repressive values. Would you still take that strong a position?
Marcuse: Yes, more than ever before. I insist that a better society, or socialist society, would be qualitatively different from all preceding and present social systems.
Malinovich: But would you agree with the idea that in the late sixties and early seventies the students had really attained a kind of new consciousness?
Marcuse: Yes, and not only the students. Also women and racial and national minorities, also part of the intelligentsia as a whole.
Malinovich: My feeling was that you were not just speaking of a political consciousness but that you were speaking of a change in the psychological—
Marcuse: A change in the entire mental structure. If you want, you can go back and quote it in Freudian terms—an ascent of Eros in the struggle with aggressiveness and destructiveness.
Malinovich: Do you still feel now that that change was a deep one, that it was more than a superficial change?
Marcuse: Yes, I do. It was on a very deep level, but did not come to adequate realization as a political movement.
Malinovich: If that’s still your feeling, then how do you explain that the student movement has kind of fizzled out? Recent Gallup polls indicate that students are much more conservative.
Marcuse: I would consider this a temporary relapse. The situation may very well change with a worsening of economic conditions.
Malinovich: How would you explain the fact that it came to an end?
Marcuse: There are many reasons. First, the end of the war in Vietnam, and the end of the draft. Secondly, the stabilization of the capitalist system.
Malinovich: What do you mean by that?
Marcuse: Economically as well as politically a turn to the right, and with that an intensification of repression.
Malinovich: Do you have some specific thing in mind when you speak of intensification of repression? Something like Kent State?
Marcuse: In this country still in a constitutional and democratic way we have no such thing as a Berufsverbot. However, I think it is an understatement to say that a Marxist scholar will find it very difficult to get a job or even a promotion.
Malinovich: Could you say something about what your hopes were for the student movement back in the sixties? At that time what seemed to you to be the possibilities for the movement? For example, in a lecture in Germany you said: “I see the possibilitiy of an effective revolutionary force only in the combination of what is going on in the Third World with the explosive forces in the centers of the highly developed world.” Did you in the sixties have hope that somehow the student movement in conjunction with the Third World or the ghetto population could conceivably have led to a real revolution?
Marcuse: Not in this country. The situation was different in France. It was not in itself in this country a revolutionary movement, but one of the catalyst groups which for the first time articulated this transformation of needs and values, with such slogans as “the new sensibility”, for example.
Malinovich: When you talk about the new sensibility are you saying that, while the students today are more politically conservative or less politically involved, they are still in some psychological sense on a more advanced level than students before the sixties?
Marcuse? Again, it is not so much a psychological question as the changing needs and aspirations, and a skepticism concerning all the competitive needs and values of the capitalist system, and the insistence on the right of sensibility, a sensuousness—that the emancipation of these from the established alienation is a decisive element in the struggle for a better society. This kind of change is still there. Its political expression is largely repressed, but it is certainly there, and not only among the students.
Malinovich: You talked about the workers.
Marcuse: And strata of the dependent bourgeoisie.
Malinovich: So what you said about France is at least as true about the United States?
Marcuse: Not everything I say there about France would apply to the United States. You cannot say that it was a revolutionary movement here; in France it may well have been, and in Italy too.
Malinovich: So even in the sixties you never believed that the U.S. student movement was a revolutionary movement, but would it be correct to say that you felt it would be a step in the right direction, a consciousness-raising experience?
Marcuse: Even more, I would say the expression of a qualitatively different struggle and qualitatively different aims.


2 responses to “Marcuse on the student movement

  1. Pingback: Marcuse on the student movement | Reaction Times

  2. NRK June 1, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    Also worth checking out in this context: the final correspondence between Adorno and Marcuse .

    Draws a pretty clear picture of their differences regarding the students movement, even when Adorno was dealing with uppity Germans and Marcuse, with Americans who rarely bothered him.

    Fun/sad/creepy fact (depending on your preferences): Adorno died within hours of sending the last letter.

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