First Question: It is said that Marx’s concept of revolution, will not stand up to the new facts of industrial society. It has become an anachronism; it no longer has any constituency. The working class, in Marx’s opinion the historical subject of all future social upheavals, has dissolved itself as a class; the desire to establish a qualitatively different social order has given way to the need for better working conditions, more leisure time and more material goods. In these circumstances, the old theory of revolution, which articulated the economic misery of one class and taught the oppressed to speak, has become impotent and unrealistic; it has turned its back on reality. Anyone talking of revolution nowadays is surely contributing to a mystification?
Marcuse: The idea of revolution is in fact never a ‘mystification’. As a whole the existing situation has always been bad: a force resisting the real possibilities of overcoming misery and inhumanity. The fact that revolution no longer has any identifiable ‘constituency’ and no organized movement on which it could depend does not remove its necessity. But does it really have no ‘constituency’ today? Neither the ideological veil of pluralist democracy nor the material veil
This tendency can only be broken if the resistance of the victims of neo-colonialism finds support in the ‘affluent society’ itself, in the metropolis of advanced capitalism and in the weaker capitalist countries whose independence is threatened by the metropolis. (I will come back to the opposition in the metropolis in my answer to question 4.) In any case, in the capitalist countries of the European continent the precondition for the efficacy of a serious opposition remains the political revitalization of the working-class movement on an international scale.
Second Question: One of the striking aspects of our time is the gradual mutual convergence of capitalism and socialism. In both systems advanced industrialization has altered the social process and the methods of production. To the extent that technology determines the course of things and the social relationships of men, relations of domination can still be defined only in technological terms. Power lies with the apparatus which administers social labour and organizes its adaptation: domination, translated into manipulation, can hardly be recognized any more as political and economic domination. Each person acts in good faith, from his own desire to act in response to general pressures. The conception of freedom, by which revolutionaries and revolutions were inspired, has, so it seems, been taken out of circulation in modern capitalist and socialist states. Has the concept of freedom finally lost its revolutionary force in the ‘managed mass society’?
Marcuse: The ‘gradual mutual convergence of capitalism and social-
But technological and political competition in the development of the forces of production produces yet another tendency which appears still more pernicious for the future. The present international constellation is leading to an opposition of interests between the ‘old’ stabilized, technologically advanced and industrialized socialist countries on the one hand and the ‘new’ and poorer ones on the other. The former are moving into the category of possessors; the revolutionary communism of the poor on the other side of the border may well appear to them as a new ‘revolution from below’ and thus as a danger Not to them alone, of course. For the ‘affluent society’ also senses danger here: for a long time the American ‘struggle against Communism’ has become a struggle against the Communism of the poorest.
If it is the case that the ‘conception of freedom, by which revolutionaries and revolutions were inspired’, is suppressed in the developed industrial countries with their rising standard of living, then it is all the more acute and open where the suppressed are rebelling against the system. It is here that the revolutionary concept of freedom coincides with the necessity to defend naked existence: in Vietnam as much as in the slums and ghettoes of the rich countries.