Radical Political Thought


RadicalPolitical Thought


Question5 Accordingto Marcuse, in late capitalist Western societies, “technologicalrationality” has become “political rationality”. That is tosay, the instruments of production—the machine process, thetechnical organization of labor, automation, etc.—have acquired apolitical meaning and technological rationality has created a newkind of domination. Discuss Marcuse’s political conception oftechnology and compare it to the conception of technology put forwardby Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto.

Marcuse’sanalysis focuses on advanced industrial societies, in which technicalapparatus designed for production and distribution carry thefunctions of not just the face value as sheer instruments isolatablefrom their social and political effects, but rather as systemsdetermining priori the product apparatus as well as the operations ofservicing and extending it. In this society, the production apparatustend to be totalitarian to the extent of determining sociallynecessary occupation and attitude skills an individual’s needs andaspirations. In a time when capitalism was about to destroy the oldfeudal order and establish its own rule, Marx and Engels argued theywould create the preconditions for the struggle for socialism,creating mass production and a new voluntary working class. Theywould see the development of towns discover merchant capitalism, anda growth of manufactures to meet new markets. Technologicalrationality has become political rationality creating a new kind ofdomination the previous middle-class wage labors with no skills arereduced to selling their labor power in order to live.

Marcuse’sPolitical Conception of Technology

Accordingto Marcuse (1991), a comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democraticfreedom prevails where there exists advanced industrial civilization,a reward of technical advancement in a particular society. He viewsthis as the new form of control arguing nothing could be morerational than the suppression of individuality under the mechanismsof socially necessary but painful performances. These would beattained via such measures as focusing on individual enterprises inmore effective, more productive corporations, moderation of freecompetition among unequally equipped economical subjects, arestriction of privileges and national sovereignties that hamper theinternational organization of resources. In addition, thistechnological order also entails a political and intellectualcoordination, which may be regrettable, but promising development.

Rightsand liberties previously held as important factors in the pioneeringstages of industrial society give to a higher stage in this society,losing their traditional rationale and content. Freedom of thought,speech, and conscience were just but a free enterprise, one theyserved to promote and protect. These were critical ideas, designed toreplace an obsolescent material and intellectual culture, and bringin more productive and rational one. Rights and liberties owed theirfate to the institution they were subjected to, with the achievementcancelling the premises.

Inthe modern day, political power affirms itself by commandeering themachine process, and technical organization of machineries (Marcuse,1991). Governments of advanced and advancing industrial societies canmaintain and secure themselves only when they succeed in themobilization, organization, and in the exploitation of technical,scientific, mechanical productivity available to their industrialcivilization. This productivity is what mobilizes the society aswhole, rising above and beyond individual and group interests.Therefore, machine’s physical power and only physical power, beatsthat of the individual or a group of individuals for that matter.This physical strength is what makes the machine the most effectivepolitical instrument, and any given society relying on machineprocess.

Accordingto Marcuse (1991), contemporary industrial civilization shows it isat the stage where it is no longer sufficiently stated in itstraditional terms of economic, political, and intellectual liberties.It is not because they are insignificant but rather it is becausethey too significant to be held up with the traditional forms. Newcapacities of the society call for new modes of realization, and suchnew modes would only be indicated in negative terms to avoidnegotiation of privileged modes.

Thesociety of total mobilization takes shape in most advance areas ofindustrial civilization combining in productive union, futures of thewelfare state and the warfare state. Compared to previous societiesit’s truly a new society, which is isolating trouble areas andcleaning them out. The main trends under total mobilization areconcentration on the national economy, giving attention to the needsof the big corporations using the government as the stimulator,supporter, or sometimes as the controlling force. The economy isdirected to a world-wide system of military alliances, monetaryarrangements, technical assistance, and developmental schemes.

Conceptionof technology put forward by Marx and Engels in the CommunistManifesto

Accordingto Marx and Engels Manifesto of the Communist Party, they were of theargument that they would create preconditions for socialism strugglein a time when capitalism was about to break the old federal orderand establish its own rule, thus they came up with the communitymanifesto. The manifesto offered a good short portrait of thedevelopment of capitalism, whereby, there would be growth of newtowns in the Middle Ages, leading to the discovery of commercialcapitalism, which would be followed by growth of manufacturers tocover the demands of new found markets.

Theold system was no longer functional, in which industrial productionwas monopolized could not handle the growing wants in demands of thenew market. The guild masters were pushed aside by the manufacturingmiddle class, division of labor in single workshops was born. At thesame time, the market kept expanding causing demand to rise, leadingto the steam and machinery revolution industrial production. Thus,the place of manufacturing was replaced by massive modern industries,the place of industrial middle class taken by industrialmillionaires, who are the leaders of whole industrial armies, themodern middle classes.

Themodern industry has established the world market, triggered by thedevelopment of America. The development has contributed immensely tothe growth of trade, transport, and communication. This has seen theexpansion of industry, leading to an extension of the railway, moderncommunication, and growth of cities. The development can be creditedto the bourgeoisie, they were a revolutionary class who transformedproduction and destroyed ways of living and working that werepreviously in existences for hundreds of years.

Comparisonbetween Marcuse’s political conception of technology and conceptionof technologyputforward by Marx and Engels

Accordingto the communist manifesto, the transition from capitalism tosocialism as a political revolution, it destroys the politicalapparatus of capitalism but it retains the technological apparatus,causing it to drift to socialization. Continuity is marked in therevolution, that is, technological rationalization free fromirrational restrictions and destructions, sustaining and consummatingitself in the new society. Where process of revolution of oldrelations of production are broken up, technology remains continuingto develop further.

Onthe other hand, under advanced capitalism, technological rationalityis represented, in spite of its irrational use in productiveapparatus (Marcuse, 1991). This extends past mechanized plants,tools, and exploitation of resources, to the modes of labor adoptedin the handling of machine process arranged by scientific management.Neither nationalization nor socialization alters by themselves thisphysical embodiment of technological rationality. However,socialization remains a precondition for the socialist developmentfor all the productive forces.

Accordingto Marcuse, mechanization is increasingly reducing the quality andintensity of physical energy used up in labor. On the other hand, toMarx the proletarian is the primarily the manual laborer using up hisphysical energy during the work process, even when he is usingmachines to work. The Marxian approach minimizes physical pain anddesolation caused by labor, which is the material tangible element inwage slavery and alienation, which is the physiological and dimensionof classical capitalism.

Onthe other hand, the more complete mechanism of labor in advancedcapitalism, as it sustains exploitation, it will also modify theattitude and the status of those exploited. Within the technologicalassembly, where mechanized employment, which automatic andsemi-automatic reactions fill the large part of the labor timeremains to be a life-long occupation that is inhuman slavery. Thisprocess is even more tiring considering the isolation from each otherand an increased speed-up of the machine operators. While in the moreadvanced and automated industries, muscular fatigue technology hassubstituted transforming physical energy into technical and mentalskills.

Thus,there has transformed requiring skills of the head rather than themanual skill, the logician has taken the place of the craftsman,nerve has take over muscle, hence choosing a pilot over a manualworker, and needing a maintenance man rather than an operator. Theworker in the previous stage of capitalism was the key to everythinghappening as he was required to do all the work for the system to befunctional. He toiled to produce the essential and luxuries of thelife while he lived in filth and abject poverty. In contrary, theorganized worker in advanced areas in the technological society livesin less denial as he and other objects of the social division oflabor, he has been incorporated into the technical community(Marcuse, 1991).

Technologicalrationality turned political rationality express the changes inmechanized enslavement, things have moved from oppression toswinging, however, they swing the human instrument, swing his body,mind and soul. Today the number of non-production workers hasincreased, with this quantitative change going back to the change ofbasic instruments of production. The changes of work and instrumentof production alters the attitude and consciousness of labor.


Theprospects of containing change tagging along the politics oftechnological rationality, depends largely on the welfare of thestate. The state raises the stands of administered living, which is aprecondition of advanced industrial societies, where technicalapparatus have set up as different power over and above theindividual depending on the development and expansion ofproductivity. These conditions make declining of freedom andopposition to switch from a moral ground to rather an objectivesocietal process, reproduction and distribution of goods and servicesensures conformity to rational technological attitudes.


Marcuse,H. (1991).&nbspOne-dimensionalman studies in the ideology of advanced industrial society.Boston: Beacon Press.