Karl Marx and the Critical Theorists: Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Jürgen Habermas, and Patricia Hill Collins
Exam Two Study Guide
Cassandra (Cassi) Hannon
Karl Marx (18181883) pp 2482 in text book
“ The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (emphasis mine).
Although Marx’s theories were more complex, the above quote is a good example of his basic premise. Marx, in the 19th century, witnessed the growth of not only the poor working class, but also of the new middle class, the bourgeoise, who quickly gained economic and political power. Because of the influx of immigrants from the countryside, there were soon more people working in manufacturing than in their traditional agricultural trades. These immigrants soon found, however, that working conditions in the factories were horrid and sometimes dangerous. The men and women were often required to work 70 hours per week, and children worked as many as 50 hours each week. They were all forced to work overtime, remaining on their feet for such long times their legs would swell, in unsafe conditions. Several workers attempted suicide to escape the dismal conditions.
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Marx witnessed and studied this problem and the exploitation of workers. He created a theory he hoped would not just be studied by scholars, but would be used as a vehicle for change. His description of the capitalists classes were: wage earners/proletariat (sell their labor for money), capitalists/bourgeoise (own the capital; the economic and political power in society), landowners. These classes are groups of people who share a common position in relation to the means of forces of production (raw materials, technology, machines, factories, land). These classes are distinguished by their level of ownership to the means of production: the sell their time to make the product, they own the capital necessary to produce the product and therefore the product itself, and the landowners who provide the place these products are made.
Marx believed the the struggle between the classes would be a catalyst and prime mover for social change. Capitalism would bring about its own downfall since it was based on production by/on private property in this case, the working class’ laborforwage. Capitalism’s design was to be such that any man could enter the marketplace of goods and services. Unfortunately, human nature what it is, the economy is controlled by those in best position to dictate its course of development: consumers and producers (of course, the bourgeoise are the ones who are in control).
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The main premise of Marx’s theory is that capitalism, far from being free enterprise, is exploitative. Wageearning workers perform all tasks necessary to produce the final product: mine raw materials, handle the machines, and assemble the final products all for capitalists who
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make profits on said products. These wageearners earn little more than subsistence wages for their time. These wages are spent, of course, on purchasing the bare necessities from the capitalists at a profit.
Marx theorized that one day the proletariat would rise up against this system of tyranny. To make this idea even more of a potential outcome is the fact that, through vicious competition among the bourgeoise, many original capitalists have now been left in the same penniless, propertyless position as the proletariats, swelling the ranks of the poor wageearners even more. What’s more, many of these displaced capitalists are welleducated. These people possess a greater understanding of the system and of politics. Because of the level of education and political savvy these newer proletariat bring to the table, they bring a new radicalization with regard to the nature of capitalist accumulation and lead the wageearning proletariat workers’ thoughts into the overthrow of the system of their oppression. If you want to learn more check out Can a drug-sniffing dog be used without a search warrant?
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This kind of generation of class consciousness was the purpose of Marx and his political activities. He wanted to help the working class understand its common relationship to the means of production and help them understand that this was the source of the workers’ oppressive conditions. His ideal would have been to turn the propertyless proletariat workingclass through a revolution into the ruling class into the ruling class, what he saw as their rightful place.
It is common knowledge that Marx was a socialist. He saw capitalism as a necessary step on the way to a socialist society. Once the proletariat was in power, it would be capable of using governmental power to abolish the private ownership of production that had allowed the bourgeoise to take advantage of both workers and consumers, creating a socialist system. Just as capitalism had been a temporary but necessary state, so to would socialism in Marx’s theory. Once there is no more property ownership and class equality had evolved, humanity would experience utopia. In such a utopia, individual members, free from the daily struggle just to survive, could reach their full potential by cultivating their natural talents and interests. Marx’s Theoretical Orientation We also discuss several other topics like How does sufis describe their union with god?
● Predominantly collectivist and rationalist, although not all of the elements of his theory fits neatly into these boxes. We also discuss several other topics like What do primary sources or documents explore?
● Marx saw society as evolving toward an ultimate, utopian end that would be spurred by class conflict. The class (not individual) struggle to control the forces of production and distribution of resources and the profits they create leads these classes to become prime movers of history through each stage of the development of human society.
● Marx also felt that individuals do not chart their paths on roads not yet built. Instead, we think and act within the limits established by existing “circumstances.”
● He further believes that the circumstances of greatest import are that individuals are born into societies where the forces and relations of production (the technology to extract and develop resources and the ownership of those resources) are already established independent of their free will. These classes the wageearner, the capitalist, and the landowner roles are already set more or less at birth.
● The social, political, and intellectual “superstructure” of society is similarly set. One’s class determines one’s relationship to this superstructure. It develops her relationship with the legal and political system and determines her educational aspirations. This fact tends to keep the lower classes “in their place.” Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule in the form of activists who try to make a difference for their class.
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Introduction to The German Ideology
● Marx’s attempt to reformulate German philosopher Georg W. F. Hegel’s work. ● Hegel saw change as driven by dialectical processes where a given state of being or idea contained within it the seeds of an opposing state of being or opposing idea. In other words, the state of being or idea that may need some form of change already held within it the very concept of change that was necessary.
● Hegel’s theory involved a theological view in which progress and history comes to an end as the contradictions between mankind’s ideas about reality and the “Truth” of reality as designed by God are finally resolved. The evolution of human history proceeds purposively according to an immanent or predestined design. So, the stage of history or reality as we perceive them are defined by progressive stages in the negation of the prevailing conceptual ordering of experience. In this frame of reference, utopia happens when men reach “Pure Reason” or “Absolute Idea.”
● Marx, however, breaks from Hegel when he determines that it is a material existence, not consciousness (or the idea of God) that fuels historical change and the inevitable march toward freedom.
● Marx maintains that the dominant economic class controls not only a society’s means of material production, but the production of ideas as well.
● The idea of “personal freedom” still has by no means been universally adopted. In fact it can said to have sprung from the idea of capitalism. In this system, workers are free to find work or quit their job. Company owners can open their businesses, hire and fire workers pretty much at their whim, and close their doors. This idea of “freedom” serves the economic and political interests of the ruling class.
● Marx said “Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual lifeprocess.” and “Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.” With these two statements in mind, it appears that Marx is saying the act of living creates consciousness, not the other way around. (Could it be “I am therefore I think?” “Instead of I think therefore I am?” hmmm.)
● “By social we understand the cooperation of several individuals, no matter under what conditions, in what manner and to what end.” Karl Marx, The German Ideology ● Marx moves towards what he sees as the evolution from socialism: communism. “...while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity, but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow…” ● The “estrangement” of the working man, the proletariat, involves two ideas: power that creates propertyless and the destitution caused by being treated as a commodity by the bourgeoise.
● Some see communism as just another political manifesto, whereas Marx sees it as an ideal, a way of life that will not be without its adjustments.
Introduction to Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844
● Marx sees alienation or estrangement inherent in capitalism because the results of our labor confront us as a dominating power. This labor is nothing more than a means for the
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worker to maintain her physical existence, to shape her life and her relationships with each other. She is just a cog in the wheel. Marx sees this is pretty much the same thing as selling your soul. This capitalist system strips away his creative nature or “species being,” alienating him from the rest of humanity, causing him to become just another commodity to be bought and sold. He is, to himself and others, nothing more than an animal or machine.
● According to Marx, the more productive a worker is, the more product he produces, the cheaper he becomes as a commodity.
● Laws of Political Economy “express the estrangement of the worker in his object thus: the more the worker produces, the less he has to consume; the more unworthy he becomes; the better formed his product, the more deformed becomes the worker; the more civilized the object, the more barbarous becomes the worker; rh more ingenious labour becomes, the duller becomes the worker and the more he becomes nature’s bondsman.” In other words, the workers’ production produces wealth for the rich, and destitution for the worker. The worker works had his whole life, creating beauty for the rich, and deformity for himself.
● A worker who creates a product for himself, to sell himself, to feed his family, feels satisfaction. A worker forced by necessity or worse to produce a product for someone other than himself, for the wealthy, feels no joy, no sense of accomplishment, and therefore becomes alienated,
● In the capitalist society, money is the supreme good. With enough money, anyone can buy almost anything they desire, regardless of their personal attributes. However, Marx remarks that “money is the alienated ability of mankind.” What does that say about those of us who have no money?
Introduction to The Communist Manifesto
● In his Communist Manifesto, Marx details his “commitment to the Enlightenment in the perfectibility of humanity, which in his view will be realized through an inevitable communist revolution.”
● Marx says that, like other economic systems before it, capitalism will collapse because of the way in which production is handled by companies and the law which will eventually become an obstacle to the “means of production” resulting in an “epidemic of overproduction.” Such an overproduction will “choke” the bourgeoise by means of the everincreasing efficiency of production.
● This overproduction of goods leads to attempts to eliminate competitors, creation or new markets, destruction of some of their products, and/or cutting back on production. While some or all of these may be cost cutting measures, they are also profit cutting measures,and ultimately have a huge impact on the working class, the proletariat.
● But, why communism? What would make this a better system for all citizens and not just the bourgeoise? Marx maintains that “once the means of production becomes collectively owned, exploitation of the worker is no longer possible.”
Introduction to Capital
● Labor theory of value: “the value of any object is determined ultimately by the amount of labor time (hours, weeks, months, etc.) that it took to produce it.”
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● Workers in a capitalist society, not owning the means of production themselves, are forced to sell their labor power in order to survive, making it a commodity. But who and what determines the cost for his labor? First, it depends on who much labor is necessary to produce a particular item. The worker must also make enough to pay for the necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter, etc. not just for himself, but, if he has one, his family as well.
● Surplus value equals the total labor worked in a time period, for example a day, less the time it actually takes to produce whatever widget is being made. This is also the source of the capitalists’ exploitation of workers because the worker is giving more than he is receiving without having any choice in this relationship.
● Commodity fetishism: because we often produce items for sale, we have a tendency to give these items a sense of “magical” power, even though we (or someone just like us) created them to begin with
Most individuals living in democratic societies today (and those living on the outside looking in), believe that we are “living the good life.” The critical theorists below, however, do not see things the same way. They see this democratic, capitalist life as dominating and dehumanizing. These societies are focused on their unique culture, on science, and technology. Instead of making life better, critical theorists see these things as “distorting consciousness” and therefore keeping individuals from “recognizing and satisfying their true human interests.” We have, in a real sense, begun worshiping the science and technology we perceive as making our lives easier and better, when in fact they are “dehumanizing.”
Original Critical Theorists
● Even though Max Horkheimer was the son of a successful businessman and owner of several textile factories, Horkheimer held radical political views, even having sympathies with the working class, developing a distaste for “domineering businessmen like his father.”
Introduction to Max Horkheimer’s Eclipse of Reason
● Horkheimer believed that all of society was subject to its dehumanizing effects, the workers and businesspersons alike.
● Horkheimer also feels that, although human suffering continues, such misery and suffering are not necessary because society has the technological means to eliminate it. ● In this newer age of big business, the ordinary man finds it more difficult to plan for his heirs as in times past. While it may be that he has more opportunities than his ancestors, they are short term, leaving little room to plan anything for successive generations. ● A business ideology is surplanting former religious, moral, and political ideologies. ● Workers of today “...have learned to take social injustice even inequity within their own group as a powerful fact, and to take powerful facts as the only things to be respected. Their minds are closed to dreams of a basically different world and to concepts that,
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instead of being mere classification of facts, are oriented toward real fulfillment of those dreams.” In other words, workers of today have learned that the powers that be have all the power and it is in their best interest to just accept that they have no power and to hope for more is counterproductive.
● Even mass culture reinforces the social pressure that individuals feel to conform rather than express individuality.
● “However, there is increasing awareness that the unbearable pressure upon the individual is not inevitable. It is to be hoped that men will come to see that it springs not directly from the purely technical requirements of the production, but from the social structure.” Theodor Adorno
● Theodor Adorno also came from a comfortable family lifestyle. However, he witnessed the social and economic inequalities of the time and was moved.
Introduction to Theodor Adorno’s “The Culture Industry Reconsidered” ● Adorno, a student of music, believed that the “purpose of culture is to render the impossible possible, to offer alternatives to existing social conditions…(that) the culture industry has furthered the collapse of reason.”
● He also felt that in today’s advanced societies, culture was synonymous with industry, making it “subject to the rule of efficient production and standardization…” So, “the relationship between mass culture and the individual is one akin to that of seller and buyer.” Except, no matter what big business would have us believe, the customer is NOT king. Big business produces and then convinces consumers that their product is exactly what consumers want and need.
● Adorno notes profoundly that “People are not only, as the saying goes, falling for the swindle; if it guarantees them even the most fleeting gratification they desire a deception which is nonetheless transparent to them. They force their eyes shut and voice approval, in a kind of selfloathing, for what is meted out to them, knowing fully the purpose for which it is manufactured. Without admitting it they sense that their lives would be completely intolerable as soon as they are no longer clung to satisfaction which are none at all.”
● Marcuse was, like Horkheimer and Adorno, raised in a welltodo family. After witnessing the social unrest in Berlin during WWI, he joined the Social Democratic Party, a socialist party representing the working class.
● Unhappy with the progress of the SDP, Marcuse entered University, where he studied German history, philosophy, and economics.
● Marcuse met Horkheimer and Adorno through their association with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt. Their institute’s patron, Felix Weil, also sought to advance the ideals of socialism.
Introduction to Marcuse’s OneDimensional Man
● Marcuse describes contemporary, advanced societies (capitalist, communist, socialist) as totalitarian social orders, coordinated systems of domination that render all protest obsolete. Instead being based on fear or external coercion or force, however, the methods of domination in advanced societies are based on the manipulation of consciousness.
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● The working class is alienated now as its members identify with and literally buy into the very system that is the source of their oppression.
● Technological advances of today create “needs” that are advertised to the masses as the way to achieve status and happiness. These socalled needs in fact repress human kinds true needs and is therefore not neutral, but a means for preserving domination.
● “...economic freedom would mean freedom from the economy from being controlled by economic forces and relationships; freedom from the daily struggle for existence, from earning a living.”
● “Political freedom would mean liberation of the individuals from politics over which they have no effective control.”
● “Similarly, intellectual freedom would mean the restoration of individual thought now absorbed by mass communication and indoctrination, abolition of “public opinion” together with its makers.”
● Just because we have “free” elections of our masters does not make them any less our masters or us their slaves.
● Although we live according to our outer existence does not negate the fact that we still have an inner self…”an individual consciousness and and individual unconscious apart from public opinion and behavior. The idea of “inner freedom” here has its reality: it designates the private space in which man may become and remain “himself.”
● “...as these beneficial products become available to more individuals in more social classes, the indoctrination they carry ceases to be publicity; it becomes a way of life. It is a good way of life much better than before and as a good way of life, it militates against qualitative change. Thus emerges a pattern of onedimensional thought and behavior in which ideas, aspirations, and objectives that, by their content, transcend the established universe of discourse and action are either repelled or reduced to terms of this universe.” p 432
● “The insistence on operational and behavioral concepts turns against the efforts to free thought and behavior from the given reality and for the suppressed alternatives. Theoretical and practical Reason, academic and social behaviorism meet on common ground: that of and advanced society which makes scientific and technical progress into an instrument of domination.”
● “The industrial society which makes technology and science it own is organized for the evermoreeffective domination of man and nature, for the evermoreeffective utilization of its resources...Life as an end is qualitatively different than life as a means.”
● In the new technological work place there has be a reorganization: the capitalist now has nothing more than the position or burocrat, the management is in charge now of production, and “the tangible source of exploitation disappears behind the facade of objective rationality.”
● Marcuse reminds us that, even though the slaves of the industrialized nations may be sublimated, slaves they are for they exist as nothing more than an instrument capitalists use.
Horkheimer’s, Adorno’s, and Marcuse’s Intellectual Influences and Core Ideas
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While these three original critical theorists greatly respected Karl Marx, they found the ideas of Georg Hegel, “turning [sic] away from Marx’s doctrine of historical materialism to Hegelian idealism to better focus their analysis of culture and ideology.” However, even though Horkheimer et al studied these concepts extensively, they still failed to devise as specific way in which to bring about such social change, nor who they believed would be best to bring about such change.
Subjective reason: the means and the ends, the adequacy of the procedures that are taken for granted, but selfexplanatory.
Objective reason: relative value of the ends of actions, providing a basis for determining what is ethical, just, and right.
Individualistic rationality: critical and oppositional attitude that derived freedom of action from the unrestricted liberty of thought and conscience and measured all social standards and relations by the individual’s rational selfinterest.
Technological rationality: the scientific approach to all human affairs
Culture industry: encompaasses all those sectors involved in the creation and distribution of massculture products (television, film, magazines, newspapers and the advertisements that sell them) geared toward entertaining and pacifying the masses.
Pseudoindividualization: massproduction with the halo of free choice or open market on standardization itself
Freud: “...the real mark of progress is measured by the extent to which the historically conditioned capacity to satisfy human needs used to advance individual happiness or meet technological demands for productivity.”