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Herbert Marcuse Denounces the Vietnam War (May 22, 1966)

The social philosopher and German émigré Herbert Marcuse denounces the U.S. military engagement in Vietnam with a mixture of unorthodox Marxism, emotional anti-imperialism, and social psychology, appealing to youths to join the liberation movement of the Third World.

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Vietnam – Analysis of an Example

All economy is political economy in the broadest sense, and the system of advanced industrial society is global, also in the sense that it delivers all dimensions of human existence, private and public, to the ruling societal powers. The system is also global in the sense that there are no longer any external factors for this system, that the forces furthest removed, geographically and otherwise, become forces within the system. Domestic policy, which is extended into international policy, mobilizes and controls people’s inner lives, the structure of their drives, their thoughts and feelings; it controls spontaneity itself – and, corresponding to this global and total character of the system, the opposition, of which I will now speak, is not only and not primarily political, ideological, and socialist; but rather, also an instinctively moral or, if you will, an immoral, cynical, existential opposition. It is above all the spontaneous refusal of oppositional youth to participate, to play along, [out of] disgust with the lifestyle of the “affluent society”, that is at work here. Only this negation is articulated, this negation alone is the basis of solidarity, but it is not the goal: it is the negation of the total negativity that rules the system of the “affluent society.”

The global campaign against communism must be understood as part of this total negativity, and the economic analysis of the reasons must include an analysis of the other social dimensions. The traditional distinction between base and superstructure becomes questionable. Just as expenses for sociology and psychology in the service of “scientific management,” “human relations,” market research, advertising, and propaganda have long since ceased being mere business expenditures, and have in part become necessary costs of reproduction, psychological factors are today part of the necessary reproduction of the existing social apparatus. As elements of the permanent mobilization of the populace, they reproduce the global campaign against communism in the psychological structure of the individual. This society needs an enemy whose threatening power justifies the repressive and destructive exploitation of all physical and intellectual resources. Social wealth, technological progress, the domination of nature, on the one hand, contrasts with the use of all these forces to perpetuate the struggle for survival on a national and global basis by creating unnecessarily parasitic labor, by methodical waste and destruction in the face of poverty and need, by subjugating the human being to the enormous apparatus of total bureaucracy. This entire fateful unity of productivity and destruction, of prosperity and misery, of normalcy and war impacts man as constant repression, and these administered people, the objects of this repression, respond to it with a diffused aggression. This aggressiveness, which accumulates in excess in society, must be triggered and made useful in a way that is tolerable and profitable for society. Otherwise, it could threaten the unity of the system itself. I see this growing aggressiveness, this instinctive aggressiveness in overdeveloped industrial societies, as one of the most dangerous factors for future developments.

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