The following text has been automatically reproduced by an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) algorithm. It may not have been checked over by human eyes. For matters of precision please consult the original pdf.

Technology and Liberation

Technology’ aDd
LlbeJlaIIOD
Robert Eccleshall
critics of capitalism have traditionally considered technological development as subject to the
control of dominant interests and thus as one
aspect, albeit crucial, of a broader strategy
aimed at reproducing existing social relations.

In opposition to technological determinists (who
hold material progress to be dependent on the
number of individuals there happen to be of
sufficiently inventive and practical bent to
provide the means of rationalizing the prOduction
process) they have’ stressed the ultimately
political direction taken by scientific research.

Further, the unprecedented control of the environment facilitated by a high-level technology, thus
the possibility of eliminating toil and poverty,
has been assumed to be the necessary prerequisite
for overcoming the struggle between men themselves. Marx wrote in the Paris Manuscripts:

The rich human being is simultaneously the human
being in need of a totality of human lifeactivities – the man in whom his own realization
exists as an inner necessity, as need.

The a~tualization of this value of abundance, the
creation of a non-alienated communal form in which
,each, possessed of a highly’refined sensorium,
fully appropriates the historical attainmen~s of
the species, presupposes a material basis engendered by the development of a machine technology.

Of late, however, it has been argued that the
recent institutionalization of technological innovation as a means of avoiding threatening
crises of over-production through the maintenance
of a high rate of consumption, has brought about
a condition of material abundance which now stands
,as the major obstacle to the release of the soc~
ialist potential inherent within capitalism.

Twentieth century men¥and women may well ~e deformed by atomistic experiences in which selfhood
becomes equivalent to commodity consumption. Yet
seduced into a sense of ennervated affluence, they
are divested of any felt need to precipitate the
transition to an alternative cpmmunal form. Bewitched by the dazzling achievements of capitalism, they all too easily fall prey to an ideology
in which the technical values of instrumental
‘rationality and efficiency are significant elements. Thus’it is said that technology per se,
in some sense abstracted from the social framework
in which it is embedded or, perhaps, as determining that very framework, inhibits a drastic
structural upheaval and renders the usual Marxist
analysis anachronistic.

I suggest that this non-dynamic analysis of contemporary capitalism, which conceals its essential fragility by reifying technology (and in this
respect is little improvement on the bourgeois
economists who similarly disguised the internal
momentum of capital~sm by their assertion of
immutable economic laws), is to a large extent the
result of displacinq the concept of labour from
the significance it held for Marx as a central
ontological category. The consequence is a mixture of nihilism, in which an alternative society
is projected not because it is perceived as a
potential to be attained by the Aufhebung of

existinq structures but because it provides a
mentally satisfyinq construct for the despatrinq
intellect, and a peculiarly subjectivist conception of human freedom, a solipsi~tic affirmation
of the inner life. Alienation is thus effectively
ontologized. Apparently impotent before the in- I
creasingly hostile forces of corporate capitalism,
the unhappy consciousness seeks refuqe in mystical
flights of fancy or, what amounts to the same
thing, contents itself with constructing the blueprint of a non-attainable utopia.

Scientific Knowledge asaCommodily
Thus, just as production founded on capital
creates universal industriousness on one side i.e. surplus labour, value-creating labout – so
does it create on the other side a system of
general exploitation of the natural and human
qualities, a system of general utility, utilising science itself just as much as all the
physical and mental qualities ••• Thus capital
creates the bourgeois society, and the universal
appropriation of nature as well as of the social
bonq itself by the members of society ••• For the
first time, nature becomes purely an object for
humankind, purely ‘a matter of utility; ceases to
be recognized as a power for itself; and the
theoretical discovery of its autonomous lftws
appears merely as a ruse so as to subjugate it
under human needs, whether as an object of consumption or as a means of production. 1
Most critics of capitalism would follow Marx in
tracing the political utili~ation of science by
dominant interests to the emergence of capitalism,
coinciding with a relatively rapid expansion of
the natural sciences and a novel conceptualization
of their subject matter. Pre-capitalist societies were characterized by a reverential appreciation of nature as the source of a normative
pattern for the regulation of human affairs. The
sixteenth century English writer, John Aylmer,
proclaimed:

Nature is nothinge elsbut God him’selfe, or a
diuine order spred throughout the whole world,
and ingrafte in euerye part of it. 2
The lbelief’!was that the universe was arranged
hierarchically, a series of ranks ascending from
the lowest physical level to the angelic plane,
and that, manifestinq the wisdom of its sinq~e
‘creator, the design of the whole was recurrent in
its every part. Thus patterns of authority, the
allocation of various social functions and the
differentiation of material rewards which accompanied them, were justified as beinq incorporated
into this immutable structure. The human imperative was to accommodate and adjust to the divine
plan, ‘not to actively reshape the natural world
into objects of human need.

Capitalism eroded the assumption of a just correspondence between hierarchical social relationships and the structure of the natural world,
dissolving all relationships into exchange values
and divesting nature of inherent meaning or teleological significance. No longer replete with
norms for humankind, nature was conceived as raw
material governed by mathematically expressible
laws, matter which could be investigated and controlled through the application of appropriate
methods. From the ‘start those engaged in the
scientific enterprise were imbued with the unshakeable convictior. that the theoretical understanding, and conseqtent practical mastery, of
extra-human reality would be registered comrnul}ally through the generation of material progress.

Francis Bacon, for instance, who conceived science
as a methodologically precise and cooperative
activity designed ‘to satisfy human needs, noticed
9

social rewards because the expertise by which all
the intimate connection between knowledge and
social ills would even~ually be cu~ed lay in
power:

their hands
‘Now the true and legitimate goal of the Sciences
Only in the late nineteenth and twentieth cenis none but this: that human life be enriched
turies, however, did technologically applicable
with new discoveries and wealth. 3
scientific research become the ~inspring of
His New Atlantis leaves us in no doubt that the
developing productive forces, first through the
material abundance of this imaginary island, its
introduction of a type of large-scale machinery
cultural attainments, and the generosity and
consonant with the reproduction of existing social
urbanity of its people, derive in no small measure
relations because it regimented and fragmented the
from the influence of Solomon’s House, a scientiwork force, and latterly in the form of manific establishment
pulated consumption. Simultaneously the ideolseeking the knowledge of causes, and secret
ogy of scientism, implicit in the self-conception
motions of things; and the enlarging of the
of scientists from the beginning of the modern
bounds of human empire, to the effectin~ of the
era, has become the dominant Weltanschauung in
bounds of all things possible.

which the unjust distribution of wealth is obEngaged in this secular but nonetheless rarefied
scured by the affirmation of growth, a technically
activity, the scientific elite is immune from the
soluble problem, as a primary value.

scrutiny and control of the community and itself
determines which of its results are worthy of
what is sing~lar about the ‘rationality’ of
publication as beinq practically ~pplicable ‘~nd'”
science and technology is that it characterizes
socially desirable. Indeed, Bacon’s description
the growing potential of self-surpassing produc. ‘tive forces which continually threaten the
of the reverence accorded to the sci~ntists by the
institutional framework and at the same time,
rest of the populus, a respect cOt;esponding not
to any claim to divine authority but rather to a
set the standard of legitimation for the producrecognition of the very tangible benefi,ts contin….:

tion relations that restrict this potential. 4
gen~ upon their enterprise, anticipates the
It is on this basis that technology has displaced
mystique surrounding latter day technocrats a.s
capitalism as the evil genius in the minds of some
the architects ~f the cons~~xparadise we
,’, critics of advanced industrial society, a force
supposedly inhabit.

‘ :

to be reckoned wlth because it suppresses any
Bacon’s assumptions, the b~liaf that the fruits
awareness of the potentialities inherent within
of s~ientific investigation would be assimilat.ed
the constellation of existing structures.

into the social structure ~n the form of material
progress which justified the privileged social
position accorded to the harbingers of prosperity,
At its most naive, this line of argument locates
were accepted more or less unquestioningly by the
the obstacles to the emergence of an alternative
pioneers of social science as well as by natural
communal form at the level of consciousness,
claiming that the instrumental values emerging
scientists. Political problems were conceived as
ultimately technical, amenable to solution through
from the prevalence of the technological mode of
the eradication of those outmoded institutions and
experience induce humankind to regard one another,
authority structures which prevented humankind
like nature, as objects to be dominated and manifrom reaping the potentially rich harvest conpulated. Theodore Roszak writes:

tingent upon the scientific control of the enviWe must return once again to the intimate link
between the search for an epistemological obr~nment.

And this could be achieved through the
application of the criteria of science itself to
jectivity and the, psychology of alienation: that
the reorganization of society. st Simon, for
is, to idolatrous consciousness. It is no mere
example, projected a rationally calculated and cocoincidence that this devouring sense of alienaordinated community in which various generic
tion from nature and one’s fellow man – and from
aptitudes would be harnessed for maximum producone’s own essential self – becomes the endemic
tion; a functionally differentiated social organanguish of advanced industrial societies. The
ism in which those who excelled in technical
experience of being a cosmic absurdity, a creatskills were to assume responsibility for mainure obtruded into the universe without purpose,
taining and administering the material abundance in
continuity, or kinship, is the psychic price we
which all would presumably share.

.

pay for scientific ‘enlightenment’ and technoWhat was omitted from this conception of scientlogical prowess. Onl y those who have broken off
ific activity was the fact that, being conducted
their silent inner dialogue with man and nature,
within a framework of structurally generated
onl’y those who ex~rience the world as dead,
conflicts, its practical utilizat.ion was geared to
stupid, or alien’ and therefore without a claim
the extraction of a surplus for the benefit of a
to reverence, could ever turn upon their environminority. The assertion of an interest-free
ment and their fellows witp the cool and metiknowledge, from which material benefits would flow
culously calculated rapacity of industrial
apparently unmediated by class conflicts, dissociety. 5
guised the fact that the practical mastery of
The solution is the formation of an ‘alternative
nature wa~ ~ means of ensuring capital accumulaconsciousness through a renewal of the sacration. It thus became part of the ideological
mental and visionary, a sense of rapturous wonder
baggage by which the prevailing framework of
emanating from an awareness of being a.bsorbed indomination was sustained through it~ anchorage in
to a cosmos throbbing witn vitality and signifithe consciousness of its members. In this way
cance.

scientific knowledge, both in its practical uses
Roszak’s conceQtion of man is less one of a being
and in its account of society, became a commodity
who simultaneously modifies himself and the enwhich scientists exchanged for their location
vironment through his own mediating activity than
one of a creator of values which, once produced,
within the general division of labour; a division
gain objective existence and subjugate their
of labour no longer validated by its imagined
conformity to some divinely established pattern
creator. Hence structural changes assume incidental significance in his programme for it seems
but by the law~ of progress which demanded a
that the attainment of the appropriate mental
proliferation of occupational functions. The
vantage point is sufficient to dispel all contracarriers of the community’s technical skills were
dictions. 6 Roszak’s response to the contemporary
naturally entitled to their disproportionate

Technology as Ideology

10

scene, whereby mind is identified as the agent of
liberation, is by no means unique, fdr it links
with a dominant strand of thin'<.ing of the current
youth movement, especially prevalent among those
who have gravitated Eas=wards. It amounts to the~
celebration of inwardness in which each is conceived as a potentially ethereal monad who, once
having attained communication with his/her true
self through irttrospection or vacuous concemplation, cannot but respond to that which is essential in those with whom he/she happens to have
contact. Liberation is thus made equivalent to
detachment from the world with the effect of
transforming men and women into abstract bundles
of unactualized and unactualizable potentialities.

For what is absent from the theory is any understanding that the human self must fabricate the
objective conditions of its autonomy through a
collective recreation of the social world~
The flaw in Roszak’s analysis is the attribution
of a false role to ideology in perpetuating alienated social relationships. Bourgeois ideology,
of which scientific mystification or the technological veil is now evidently a main ingredient,
is part of the total process through which
existing structures are sustained. Yet its role
is to reinforce the institutional structures ‘of
capitalism. To grasp why people treat one another
as objects we need to familiarize ourselves with
their (and our) basic life experiences: the
socialization process to which they are subjected
to prepare them for hierarchical and fragmentary
productive roles. The manipulative aspect of
technology is not an intrinsic feature per se
which necessarily elicits a corresponding set of
values determining the manner in which people
relate to one another, but an indication of technology’s embodiment in an institutional structure
designed to maximise commodity production at the
same time as maintaining authoritarian social
patterns. As such, technology reflects in its
present organization the political relationships
of capitalism for, as Andre Gorz has aply established, social relations do shape productive
forces. But given transformed life experiences,
with a correspondingly different form of technology, in which individuals engage in mutually
beneficial and satisfying activities, there is no
reason to suppose that they would adopt an instrumentalist attitude to one another. To
suggest otherwise is to tacitly admit of the
possibility of transcending, not merely a set of
values, but ‘capitalism itself.

Technology as Manipulated
Consumption
A somewhat more sophisticated line of approach is
the claim that the technological framework of domination has penetrated the psychic structure of
its members, ensuring a passive compliance with
productive requirements so that any negative or
oppositional elements within capitalism are
rendered inoperative. By entering the production
process t~chnology not only maintains a high rate
of commodity production but ensures that any
surplus is disposed of by a massive employment of
advertising techniques through which leisure time
activities are dissolved into consumption’ patterns
as individuals are persuaded to accept available
needs ‘as the only desirable or essential ones.

The effective domination of nature thus conceals
the ~omination oflmen and the system of social
control assumes a pleasant visage, all too easily
tranquillizing its acquiescent victims. simultaneously, the ubiquity of technical norms diverts
rational thought from questioning the system as

a whole into the discovery of increasingly efficient means of exploitation. This, of course, is
the argument relentlessly pursued by Marcuse in
One Dimensional Man and elsewhere. It receives
esoteric expression in Jeremy Shapiro’sciaim
that one-dimensionality operates as a universal
semiotic of technological experience in which all
of the oppositions of two-dimensional civilization are irreversibly homogenized and subjected
to self-regulating laws of a synchronic system
in which the traditional distinctions of form
and matter, subject and object, the conscious
and the unconscious, and the beautiful and the
necessary are overcome. This universal
semiotic is the ground of all future political
and social development. 7

4If8~

~,–,~
8
Leaving aside for the moment the fact that
Marcuse’s non-dialectical analysis, in which actual social tendencies are concealed in an i~gin­
ary picture of stasis, leads him to indulge in
utopian pipe-dreaming, it simply and briefly
needs to be said that a closer examination reveals
the essential instability of technological society.

For example, it may well be that the intensified
utilization of the mass media to convince people
that the privatized gratification of commodity
consumption is an adequate substitute for the
satisfaction of social needs testifies not to a
successful containment of contradictions, as
Marcuse would have us believe, but to a recognition by image-makers and others with a stake in
the capitalist system that there are stresses
which may prove to be ultimately explosive. No
matter how many consumer goods technology manages
to deliver, and how adept it is at gratifying
artificial needs, it cannot obliterate the experiences of daily life: the lack of control of
vital social processes, the smouldering frustration issuing from the realization that one’s soul
is not to be discovered in commodities. As automation increases the opportunities of satisfying
needs beyond those of mere subsistence, so the
absurdity of submitting to alienating experiences
becomes glaringly apparent. The popular dissatisfaction with life in capitalist society, ‘indicated
by the number and nature of strikes and by the
proliferation of co~nter-cultures, is ample evidence that the dialectic is alive and healehy.

11

Autonomy as a Flight from Reality
I suggested at the outset that the type of analysis exemplified in the writings of Roszak and
Marcuse is not an adequate reflection of objective
conditions bu~ is a consequence of adopting a
different philosophical anthropology from Marx.

Labour was a central category for Marx in that it
is through an active interchange with the natural
world that humankind creates the opportunities for
self-determination.· The generic feature of man
is that he transcends his ‘naturalness’ through
his own productive activity, creating social forms
that are successively displaced as they become
inadequate to satisfy the needs which they generate. At least three conclusions follow from this
conception. (i) A deficient social form is characterised as one where the products originating from
the process of objectification exercise an independent and alien power over its members.

(ii) An alternative communal form is not projected
as an ideal to be superimposed upon existing
social reality but as a potential present within
it, -to be realized through a rationally regulated
interchange with the object world whereby the
contradiction between general productive wealth
and the inner’poverty of individuals is overcome.

When the limited bourgeois form is stripped away,
what is wealth other than the universality of
individual needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces etc., created through universal exchange? The.full development of human mastery
over the forces of nature, those of so-called
nature as well as of humanity’s own nature? The
absolute working-out of his creative potentialities, with no presupposition other than the
previous historic development, which makes this
totality of development, i.e. the development
of all human powers as such the end in itself,
not as measured on a predetermined yardstick?

Where he does not reproduce himself in one
spec:ificity, but produces his totality? Strives
not to remain something he has become, but is in
the absolute movement of becoming?8
(iii)’The primacy of production over consumption
, implies that any attempt to bring about this state
of affairs must begin wi~a reconstitution of
the realm of necessity into a non-alienated mode,
because work is the quintessentially human activity in which, under prevailing conditions,
Editar: Hillel H. Ticktin
Advisory Editorial Board: Emast Mandel, Peter
s.dgwick.

AnnuIII Sublcripti_ (2

I~~ if~(s~~C:

Contents of No. 1 includes :

Jiri Pelikan: Workers Corrtrol in Czechoslovakia
Hillel H. Ticktin: Towards a Political Economy of
the USSR.

J..-nes D. White: Historiography of the Russian
Revolution in the T_nties.

D_id H. Ruben: Godelier’s Marxism
c:ont.nts of No. 2 Inctudes :

HUIaI H. Ticktin: Political Economy of the Soviet
Intellectual
Mary Mc:Auley: Political Change Since Stalin.

O_id S. L_: The Left Opposition in 1923.

Jan KIMIrI: Czechoslovakia 1968: Workers and
Students.

Dwid H. Ruben: On Dialectical Relations.

c.mt.ntI fill No. 3 incIudeI:

ErftlSt Mandel: On the Transitional Economy.

R. Selucky: Marxism and Self·Management.

C. Goodey: Fectory Committees in 1918.

Each i….e also contains Book Reviews, a Survey of
Current Ewnts, and TlWlllations of documents
hitherto unpublished in English.

CDm-ts fill No; 4 will incIuda:

M. Hoiubenko: The Soviet Working Class
G. A. E. Smith: Political Economy of the Reform
Movement
J. L. Dallemagn8. Justice for Bukharin
H.Sharman: On Dialectics – A Reply

12

.:individuals diminish themselves. And in a class’structured society this can only mean proletarian
self-emancipation •
. Now the odd characteris,tic of those who identify
technology as the main obstacle to the creation
of a humanized environment is their unwillingness
to believe that the appropriation of the object
world can ever be a liberating experience. This
~scepticism is revealed in a number of ways.

.

,Negatively, it is manifested in their treatment
of current events. Whereas Marx was continually
seeking in the contemporary scene significant
lessons for the ~evolutionary struggle, as in the
case of ·the Paris Commune where he located in its
formation of a people’s militia and election of
revocable functionaries a microcosmic political
form of widespread economic emancipation, these
writers are reluctant to analyse the efforts of
workers to emancipate themselves. They have
plenty to say about an event such as May ’68 not so much because it may possibly provide a
pattern for future development in its fusion ~f
those whose life-styles embody needs counter to
the dominant culture with those whose economic
jemands channel a desire to reshape the institutions determining everyday life, but more because
the former group has apparently stumbled across
the alternative consciousness to which so much
significance is attached.

In Roszak’s case there is an evident connection
between his neglect of reorganization in the
economic sphere and a subjectivist notion of autonomy because for him liberation is largely a cognitive affair that has little to do with the
human self appropriating the object world by subjecting- it to the mastery of its own rational
activity.

Surprisingly, perhaps, a similar conception of
freedom is implicit in Marcuse’s thought. The
Frankfurt School has always been distressed by
the fact that labour featured so centrally for
Marx, both Adorno.and Horkheimer claiming that he
wished to transform society into a vast workhouse
in which the efficient domination of nature would
effectively obscure human exploitation. According to Walter Benjamin, the undue emphasis on
labour
recognizes only the progress in the mastery of
nature, not the r~trogression of society; it
already displays the technocratic features later
encountered in Fascism ••• The new conception of
labor amounts to the exploitation of nature,
which with naive complacency is contrasted with
the exploitation of the proletariat. Compareq
with this positivistic conception, Fourier’s
fantasies, which have
often been ridiculed,
prove to be surprisingly sound. 9
For Habermas, too, Marx’s thought contains a residual positivism resulting from the collapsing of
all categories into that of labour, the effect
being that the stress on the technical mastery of
nature provides a theoretical basis for conflating
socialism with bureaucratic centralism, In similar vein Marcuse argues that the Marxian conceptualisation of nature derives from what capitalism
has made of it, lifeless material to’be aggressively exploited and dominated through labour whereas
he, like Roszak, thinks that it deserves to be
treated as a subject in its own right.

Implicit in Marcuse’s revisionism is a rejection
of the assumption that labour can ever be an
adequate mode of self-determination, the consequence being that he wishes to see the realm of
necessity disposed of as swiftly as possible, at
the expense of considering how, through appropriate
participatory arrangements, it might be transformed

so

into a truly human form of activityt In an essay
of 1933 Marcuse betrays the influence of Heidegger
by suggesting that alienation is a necessary concomitant of objectification, thus treating it as~
an onto~ogical rather than historical category.

In lab6ring, the laborer is always ‘with the
thing’d whether one stands by a machine, draws
technical plans, is concerned with organizational measures, researches scientific problems, instructs people, etc. In his acti~ity he allows
himself to be directed by the thing, subjects
himself and obeys its laws, even when he
dominates hi’s object, directs it, guides it ,
and lets it go its own way. In each case he
is not ‘with himself’, does not passively stand
by his own existence. On the contrary, he places
himself in the service of an ‘Other than himself’,
and he is with an ‘Other than himself’ – even
when this doing fulfills his own freely assumed
life. This externalization and alienation of
human existence ••• is ineliminable in
principle. IO
Real freedom is held to be possible only beyond
the realm of material production where the burden
of labour is removed and the individual may engage
in activities that are not constrained by any
external obstacle. Thus play becomes the paradigmatic activity in which autonomy is achieved
because
in a single toss of a ball, the player achieves
an infinitely greater triumph of human freedom
over objectification than in the most powerful
accomplishment of technical laPer.11
Marcuse does alter his perspective somewhat in
his later works by admitting that the realm of
necessity·can be transformed into a mode of selfdetermination. But only insofar as it incorpor·
ates the realm of freedom into itself, that is,
to the extent that work becomes play.12 Now it
is no coincidence that those who seek to make work
wholly attractive by t~ansforming it into a purely
spontaneous, unconditioned activity are usually
prepared to subject individuals to a large dose
of institutional control and manipu~ation.

Fourier, for Whom Marcuse shares with Benjamin a
high regard, devised a complex pastoral utopia in
which the multiplicity of individual passions
would attain gratification by being channelled
into socially beneficial activities. Yet his
design depended on the presence of a minority able
to organize the realm of necessity in.the most
rational manner so as to provide the rest· of the
population with the communal facilities for indulging their desires. Similar elitist tendencies
are latent in Marcuse’s speculations. Recognizing that the realm of necessity will always entail a degree of discipline and thus of instinctual arrest, he advocates a full-scale automation
permitting libidinal energies to be expended
outside work. The qualitative transformation of
the realm of freedom consequent upon its quantitative expansion will, he suggests, be registered
in the realm
necessity so that the small amount
of work remain~ng will be experienced as play
rather thah toil. There would be little wrong
in this except that in his haste to reduce work
to its barest minimum, Marcuse fails to consider
how it might become a mode through which associated individuals express their creativ~ powers.

He concedes, for example, that the most rational
appropri~tion of nature might entail the centralized control of productive forces, in addition to
a division of labour in which technical functions.

were the prerogative of experts.

However, the executive and supervisory functions
would no longer carry the privilege of ruling
the life of others in some particular interest. I 3

We are left with this bald statement because he
is so eager to create the material basis of
freedom – understood as spontaneity or play – that
he is prepared to countenance practically any
measure, including occupational specialization,
to bring it about without considering what institutional arrangements are necessary to prevent a
new form of technocracy from emerging. Indeed,
the existence of such an elite might prove to be
an indispensable prerequisite for allowing the
majority to indulge in a plenitude of playful experiences.

There is another dimension of Marcuse’s thought,
expressed in Counter-Revolution & Revolt and other
more recent writings, where his projected society
hinges on the formation of a new sensibility in
which the play impulse or imagination, mediating
between the senses and reason, would provide the
basis for the aesthetic experience of the whole
of reality. Whereas art has presently lost its
subversive function of transcending social contradictions by its incorporation into the process of reproducing artificial needs, the alternative sensibility would repel the instrumentalist values now materialized in technology, generating a need to cooperate with nature so as to
release or restore those of its inherent aesthetic
qualities which capitalism has c,oncea,led and obliterated. Thus Marcuse writes not only of a new
technology (which is feasible when construed as an
alternative technology which would neither make an
irrational use of materials whic~ were not renewable nor be geared to a reinforcement of hierarchical social relationships) but also of a new
science that would use different concepts and
establish different facts – which even Habermas

Engels sketch of the Berlin group of Young Hege1ians (Ruge, Buhl, Na uwerck, Bauer, Wigand, Edgar
Bauer, Stirner, Meyen and Koppen)

0t

From Vol.2 (Enge1s 1838-1842) of the Collected
Works of Marx and Enge1s. These Collected Works
are being published by Lawrence & Wishart in 50
vols. at the amazingly low price of £3 each.

They will include all the works of Marx and Engels
published in their lifetime or since, their complete correspondence, a considerable part of theil:

unpublished handwritten manuscripts and some of
their works and letters newly discovered. The
first two volumes are already available, two more
should appear this year, and the whole set should
be complete within ten years.

13

admits is a piece of wishful thinking, for there
can be no substitute for a science oriented to
the technical control of the environment so long
as humankind has to appropriate reality in order
to survive. 14 More generally, the effect of wishing to transform society into a giant playground
through the convergence of art and technology is
the resolution of all contradictions in an idyllic
and utopian image of stasis and harmony in which
peace and solitude become the hallmarks of the
good life. Instead of an active mastery of
nature, Marcuse advocates a flight from reality
in which man and nature would coexist as two
separate entities, humankind tacitly agreeing to
respect. its environment on the assumption that
the latter would not erect obstacles to ~uman
autonomy conceived as the unimpeded ability to
gratify non-aggressive instincts.

offer the human self the opportunity of continually refining its sensibilities. For autonomy is
related to the ceaseless task of humanising the
material world through a conscious formulation of
projects entailing a practical mastery of the environment, through encountering obstacles to be
overcome by proficiency and endurance. 17 In this
way Marx avoided falling into the subjectivist
trap of confusing autonomy with indeterminacy because the self attains to maturity through its
interaction with the object world. And the technological achievemeJts of capitalism are the
foundation on which this rational and practical
mastery of reality becomes a real possibility.

Footnotes

Technology as a Basis of
Autonomy

1

The full development of capital,’ therefore, takes
place •.• (when) the entire produdtion process
appears as not subsumed under the direct skilfulness of the worker, but rather as the technological application of science. (It is) hence,
the tendency of capital to give production a
scientific character; direct labour (is)
reduced to a mere moment of thIs process. IS
Instead of seeking to abolish work by transmuting
it into something it cannot be while it remains
an expression of the need to live, we would do
better to reject the notion that it is intrinsically oppressive and instead focus attention on
how it might become an activity that evokes the
creative potentialities of its participants. A
more fruitful exercise would be to consider the
structural reforms of basic institutions which
are needed to transcend all alienated modes of
existence: the decentralization of political control, the abolition of the distinction between
the general categories of mental and manual
labour etc – reforms which can only be precipitated by those presently denied self-determination in the sphere of work. If we really do
require a handbook for guidance we would .do well
to tUrn from Roszak and Marcuse to Marx’s
Grundrisse where the outline of a more satisfactory philosophical anthropology. is wedded to an
attempt to spell out how technology provides the
material basis for work as a non-alienated acti~
vity.

The replacement of living by dead labour heightens the contradictions of capitalism because
though wealth is still measured in terms Qf labour
power expended, its creation is increasingly dependent on the application of science and technology to the production process. The transformation of productive work into technical labour
and the reduction of the amount of time spent in
the realm of necessity because of automation provides the basis for the formation of a new subject who, equipped with scientific and other
aptitudes, can relate to the production process
as a virtuoso.

This process is then both discipline, as regards
the human being in the process of becoming; and,
at the same time, practice, experimental science,
materially creative and objectifying science, as
regards the human being who has become, in whose
head exists the accumulated knowledge of
society. 16
By.tying creativity.to production Marx was able to
envisage how, given another communal form, the ongoing process of appropriating reality might

3
4

14

2

5
6

7

8
9
10
11
12

13
14
15
16
17

Marx, Grundrisse, trans. Martin Nicolaus,
London, 1973, pp409-l0
An Harborowe for Faithfu11 and Trewe Subiectes,
Stra,sbourg, 1559, p89, sig. M. 3 recto-verso
Novu~ Organon, Oxford, l855,pS7
Jurgen Habermas, Toward a Rational Society,
London, 1971, p89
Where the Wasteland Ends, London, 1972, p168
In this John Passmore, a stern critic of Roszak,
whose Man’s Responsibility for Nature, London,
1974, has been widely acclaimed by the media,
is substantially no different. For his attack
on Roszak and others focuses on the fact that
they have chosen to revive an inappropriate
set of values for dealing with contemporary
issues.

‘.

.

.

‘One-Dimensionality: The Universal semiotic of
Technological Experience’ in Paul Breines (ed),
Critical Interruptions, New York, 1970, pp137-8
Grundrisse, op. cit., p488
Cited in Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination, London, 1973, p57
‘On the Philosophical Foundation of the Concept of Labor in Economics’, Te10s 16, Summer
1973, p25
ibid, pp14-15
See for example ‘The Realm of Freedom and the
Realm of Necessity: a Reconsideration, Praxis,
1969, pp20-25
One Dimensional Man, London, 1968, p49
See his ‘Technology and Science as “Ideology'”
in Toward a Rational Society, op. cit.

Grundriss.e, op. cit., p699
ibi’d, p712
See ibid, pp611~12, where Marx attacks Fourier
for confusing work with play and Adam Smith
for failing to grasp
that this overcoming of obstacles is in itself a liberating activity – and that, further, the external aims become stripped of the
semblance of merely external natural urgencies, and become posited as aims which the
indi.vidua1 himself posits – hence as se1frealization, objectification of the subject,
hence real freedom, whose action is, precisely, labour .•• Really free working, e.g. composing, is at the same time precisely the most
damned seriousness, the most intense exertion.

The work of material production can achieve
this character only (1) when its social character is posited, (2) when it is of a scientific and at the same time general character,
not merely human exertion as a specifically
harnessed natural force, but exertion as subject, which appears in the production process
not in a merely natural, spontaneous form,
but as an activity regulating all the forces
of nature.

Download the PDFBuy the latest issue