The Frankfurt School represents the first major attack on Marxism in the name of "Western Marxism." While Gramsci and Lukacs operate within the framework of Marxism and were even members of the Communist Party, the Frankfurters made no such pretensions.

Instead they question the possibility of proletarian revolution since modern capitalism has found a way to lull people into passive acceptance of the system. The heroic proletariat of the age of Marx and Engels that created the Paris Commune has disappeared. What we have today is well-fed, movie-going consumers who are too dull to even know that they are slaves to the capitalist system. The Frankfurter's idea of a working-class bears strong resemblance to the likes of Homer and Marge Simpson, Ralph and Alice Kramden, and Archie and Edith Bunker. The children are like Bart Simpson and Beavis and Butthead. (Soulful and intelligent Lisa Simpson, on the other hand, may be a throwback to the English Chartists.)

Of course there were some fitful attempts at revolution in Western Europe in the good old days prior to the 1940s when "Dialectics of Enlightenment" was written, but these seem to have gone nowhere. Since Adorno and Horkheimer are so fixated on the triumphal Nazi state and its second cousin, American capitalism, there is little attempt to understand how the German working-class found itself in the fascist straight-jacket. Adorno and Horkheimer seem much more interested in an exegesis of the Odyssey or De Sade than this rather boring history stuff. (Of course, I will be taking a look at Erich Fromm's rather close study of the Nazification of the German working-class in my next post.)

Let me try to fill in a little bit of this history so that we can understand how little there was in the world of the 1940s to cheer these philosophers.

The German working-class in its majority was for socialism in the 1920s. Try to think of what this means. If we were in similar circumstances today, this would represent electoral victories for socialist parties everywhere. There would be socialist mayors of cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc. The Congress would have a big representation of socialists. Morning newspapers printed by socialist parties would have circulation in the millions.

So how did a tiny gang of fascists take power?

Part of the reason of course is that the big bourgeoisie needed a powerful weapon against socialist revolution. Hitler and his brown- shirts stepped forward. In exchange for cash payments from industrialists, they broke into socialist and trade union meetings and beat people into unconsciousness. This was what historical fascism looked like, rather than some form of Kantian philosophy run amok as argued by Adorno and Horkheimer.

There were two socialist parties in Germany in the 1920s. One, the Socialist Party, was a reformist party whose leaders had supported WWI and who had killed the revolutionaries Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in the upsurge following the war. The other main party was the Communist Party, which was much smaller but much better organized. It also, of course, had far more revolutionary-minded workers in its ranks than the SP.

Unfortunately both parties were tied to bureaucracies. In the case of the SP, it was the trade union and parliamentary bureaucracies. In the case of the CP, it was the Soviet bureaucracy. In each instance it was difficult for the voice of the ordinary worker to be heard. The ruling bodies would choose to ignore them even if democratic channels existed in these bodies, which they didn't.

The ruling body of the SP in the 1920s chose to align itself with bourgeois parties against Hitler. It advocated votes for "lesser evil" candidates like Hindenburg. It played somewhat of the same role as liberals in the Democratic Party in the United States. They both advocate class-collaboration.

The ruling body of the CP took ultraleft positions in the 1920s in compliance with the so-called "third period" Comintern strategy. In its essence this meant treating the SP as being no better than Nazis. There was "social fascism" and "Hitlerite fascism" and the workers should oppose both.

This was a terrible mistake. It reached tragic depths when the Communists advocated a vote for a Nazi referendum to unseat the local Socialist government in Saxony in the year 1931. This would be a little bit like Gus Hall urging a vote for a ballot initiative sponsored by the Vermont White Aryan Resistance to recall Bernie Sanders.

Trotsky's articles detailing the errors of the SP and the CP are in "The Struggles Against Fascism in Germany," an indispensable book. Why did so few workers rally to the Trotskyist banner (god, I hate using that type of language nowadays) when he was so correct? The reason is because Trotskyism is a hopelessly sectarian current. Trotsky founded a movement that was never able to become a mass movement since its approach to politics was that of a religious order rather an aspiring mass movement. Trotskyists only know how to preach. Trotsky had an abundance of correct ideas about strategy but he lacked the one correct organizational idea to carry them out successfully: the need for a Bolshevik Party. Instead he promoted a particularly sectarian version of the Zinovievest model that by definition repelled genuine workers. Instead he attracted cranky intellectuals like James Burhham or hardened ex-CPers like James P. Cannon or Gerry Healy.

The failure of all three left tendencies to put together an effective strategy against Hitler meant that Nazism could prevail. When Nazism prevailed, it excluded the possibility of a socialist republic to inspire intellectuals like Adorno and Horkheimer, leaders of the Frankfurt School.

When this school relocated to the United States, Adorno and Horkheimer found little to inspire them there. Instead of finding a massive worker's movement, they found a society steeped in "mass culture." People listened to the radio, went to the movies, listened to jazz bands, read pop fiction and even began watching TV. All this mass culture prevented them from discovering the roots of their oppression.

Does this all sound a little familiar?. It should since it was the prevailing wisdom of the New Left in the 1960s. The German left embraced the Dialectics of Enlightenment, a long-neglected and unpublished text and took it as a guide to understanding the passive working-class of Germany. The American student movement fell in love with another Frankfurter text, Herbert Marcuse's "One Dimensional Man." Activists held up these texts to explain why American workers supported the war in Vietnam or why German workers seemed more interested in the consumer culture than in fighting against the capitalists.

These ideas, of course, are still out there. It is necessary for us to examine them in some detail in order to prepare a reinvigorated Marxism geared to the battles that approach us in the future.


Why would people who identify themselves as leftists have such a grudge against the Enlightenment? Most of us associate the Enlightenment with an attack on the feudal system mounted by the rising bourgeoisie. Enlightenment stresses scientific values, reason, secularism, etc. Famous Enlightenment thinkers include scientists and philosophers such as Francis Bacon, Baruch Spinoza, Isaac Newton, Rene Descartes and Galileo. Now why in the world would socialists or Marxists be opposed to this historical development? Aren't we for Enlightenment values? Isn't the whole point of socialism to make the world more rational, more scientific and more secular?

Isn't our objection to the capitalist system based on its tendency to act *irrationally*. What could be more irrational than imperialist war or economic depression? Aren't these the products of a capitalist system in decay?

Adorno and Horkheimer don't see things this way. They view the ills of the modern world as a function of the rationalist mode of thinking that the Enlightenment introduced. The Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries tended to introduce a way of viewing the world that tended to objectify nature. Once we objectify nature, the next step is to dominate it. The domination of nature is the first step toward the domination of humanity by states that view society as being just one more realm to "engineer."

I recommend Martin Jay's "The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950" for some first-rate analysis of Adorno and Horkheimer. The final chapter "Toward a Philosophy of History: The Critique of the Enlightenment" is particularly helpful in understanding how this hostility toward the Enlightenment originated. The rather abstruse prose of "The Dialectics of Enlightenment" practically shouts out for some type of clear commentary such as Jay's. I spent the years 1961 to 1967 grappling with the types of problems that D&E tries to solve. I am also well acquainted with the philosophical context in which their analysis is situated. Despite this, I found Jay's commentary nearly indispensable.

Jay points out that the Frankfurters reject the notion that class conflict is the locomotive of history, a basic Marxist theory. While this might have been true at one point in the history of capitalism, the main characteristic of capitalism in the 20th century was *non-economic*. The main conflict was not between ruling classes and the ruled but between humanity as a whole and nature.

It appears that Horkheimer was much more insistent on this question than any other Frankfurter. Jay points out:

"Perhaps most clearly, this motif surfaced in Horkheimer's 'Habilitationsschrift, The Origins of the Bourgeois Philosophy of History'. Horkheimer directly related the Renaissance view of science and technology to political domination. The new conception of the natural world as a field for human manipulation and control, he argued, corresponded to a similar notion of man himself as an object of domination. The clearest exponent of this view in his eyes was Machiavelli, whose political instrumentalism served the rising bourgeois state. [Hint to all you enterprising graduate students out there. Wouldn't this be a fabulous topic for a dissertation? A comparison of Gramsci and Horkheimer's understanding of Machiavelli?] Underlying Machiavelli's politics, Horkheimer maintained, was the undialectical separation of man from nature and the hypostatization of the distinction. In fact, he argued against Machiavelli, 'nature' was dependent on man in two ways: civilization changes it and man's concept of what it is itself changes. Thus history and nature were not irreconcilably opposed."

Horkheimer had been developing these sorts of notions in 1930 *prior to Hitler's victory*. What they are is nothing but warmed-over Nietzsche. This antipathy toward the Enlightenment was a central feature of central European post-Hegelian philosophy and found its way into the existentialism of Heidegger. You could even argue that Horkheimer appropriated the trendy philosophy of his day to "improve" Marxism the way that post-Marxists such as Laclau/Mouffe appropriated Lyotard the postmodernist in the 1980s.

By the time of the Adorno-Horkheimer collaboration of the 1940s, this anti-Enlightenment stance deepened to the point of irrationalism. Horkheimer himself really began going off the deep end during the depths of WWII. He wrote a letter to a fellow Frankfurter by the name of Leo Lowenthal in 1942. It stated "Enlightenment here is identical with bourgeois thought, nay, thought in general, since there is no other thought properly speaking than in cities...". Furthermore, in his "Eclipse of Reason" he went so far as to say that "this mentality of man as the master [which was the essence of the Enlightenment view] can be traced back to the first chapters of Genesis." Oh, I get it now. The creation myths of the Hebrew tribe are responsible for all of the ills of modern capitalist society. Good gracious. I'm glad now that I never went back to the Synagogue after I was bar-mitzvahed.


You can imagine the keen disappointment the Frankfurters felt when they ended up as exiles in the United States. These were thinkers devoted to European high culture and they end up in the rejuvenated war-heated American economy. All about them they see a working- class happy to be at work cranking out bombs or bullets for the war effort. Soldiers on leave don't go to socialist study circles. Rather they take their wives or girl-friends to the movies and watch escapist films such as Preston Sturges movies or listen to Jack Benny on the radio.

You can imagine how much Adorno and Horkheimer sympathized with the hero of Sturges' "Sullivan's Travels." This is the story of a leftish film director who wants to make a "Grapes of Wrath" type film to stir the masses. The masses, Goshdarn them, seem only interested in the screwball comedies he is so good at. These comedies are also what Hollywood studios pay him so lavishly for, not social protest movies.

Adorno and Horkheimer must have walked out of the theater disgusted with the ending of the film. This scene shows Sullivan watching an audience laughing their heads off at one of his comedies. These are the poor, homeless and unemployed in a federal settlement. Sullivan concludes from this that his job in life is to amuse people rather than preach revolution to them. Leave politics to politicians. Bah, what a sell-out, the Frankfurters must have said as they gave this film two thumbs down while stomping out of the Loews Criterion.

I recommend that people take a look at the chapter "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception" in the "Dialectics of Enlightenment." This will give you a belly-laugh as hardy as the one that the poor people in "Sullivan's Travels" enjoyed. This chapter is just a slight cut above William Bennett's teeth-gnashing attack on Hollywood of today, except in the case of our Frankfurters it is from the left rather than the right. Listen to what they have to say about one of my favorite Hollywood actors Donald Duck:

"Cartoons were once exponents of fantasy as opposed to rationalism. They ensured that justice was done to the creatures and objects they electrified, by giving the maimed specimens a second life. [Could this be a reference to the cat's nine lives in Sylvester the Cat-egorical Imperative?] All they do today is to confirm the victory of technological truth reason over truth. A few years ago they had a consistent plot which only broke up in the final moments in a crazy chase, and thus resembled the old slapstick comedy. Now, however, time relations have shifted. In the very first sequence a motive is stated so that in the course of the action destruction can get to work on it: with the audience in pursuit, the protagonist becomes the worthless object of general violence. The quantity of organized of organized amusement changes into the quality of organized cruelty. The self- electors of the film industry (with whom it enjoys a close relationship) watch over the unfolding of the crime, which is as drawn-out as a hunt. Fun replaces the pleasure which the sight of an embrace would allegedly afford, and postpones satisfaction till the day of the pogrom. In so far as cartoons do any more than accustom the senses to the new tempo, they hammer into every brain the old lesson that continuous friction, the breaking down of all individual resistance, is the condition of life in this society. Donald Duck in the cartoons and the unfortunate in real life get their thrashing so that the audience can learn to take their own punishment."

What can one say? This is not parody. I swear it. Now I can understand why papers such as "The Usual Suspects: Labor, Justice, and Postmodernity in The Usual Suspects" and "Toward a Marxist Intellectual Praxis: 12 Monkeys and the Politics and Languages of Urban Globalization" are being delivered at "Rethinking Marxism" conferences. I should mention that "The Usual Suspects" is a bang-up and stylish whodunit with an ending that fooled me completely. (This final scene fooled me as much as the infamous undressing scene in the "Crying Game." I never expected *that*, did you?) With respect to "12 Monkeys," while I remain a big Bruce Willis fan, this movie was far too precious and stylized for my tastes. Since the same Monty Python alum who directed the overwrought "Brazil" directed this film, I guess this is what to expect.


Oh, yes. One more thing. Doug Henwood mentioned to me that Joel Kovel told him up in Amherst that he thought Vindana Shiva was terrific. "Dialectics of Enlightenment" explains that as we shall see.

Joel Kovel is a noted Marxist philosopher and ecologist who used to be a psychiatrist. He had the reputation of being one of the most serious Marxist-oriented psychiatrists in the nation. This led me to make an appointment with him in the early 1980s for an evaluation. Shortly after this session, Joel wrote an article in Z Magazine explaining why he was quitting the psychiatry profession. It was an exercise in futility basically he confessed. I always wondered if my one session with him factored into his decision.

Joel has always described himself as a Frankfurter but I wasn't sure what that means. Now that I have studied Adorno and Horkheimer, it all makes sense. This Frankfurter stuff would naturally tend to make one open to all sorts of green-green foolishness.

I sent Joel an attack I made on Deep Ecology last year and he thought I was much "too sectarian." When you look at his article in the collection "Environmental Philosophy," you can see the heavy hand of the Frankfurters on his thinking.

The title of the article is "The Marriage of Radical Ecologies." In it he extols the English Romantic Poet William Blake and tries to show the Deep Ecologists that the Marxists are not as bad as they're cracked up to be. He says that they can unite around the notion of the "sacred." So what's this "sacred" business about anyhow. I enjoy a Gregorian Chant as much as the next person but everything in its place, you know. Joel says:

"In a money economy, nothing can be sacred, since to be sacred means to be nonexchangeable, while a fully developed 'market' puts everything on the block. Social movements that seek to restore a sense of the sacred are already undertaking, therefore, a potentially powerful critique of capitalism. No doubt, this is easily co-optable and often squandered. It easily becomes irrational, self-indulgent posturing when not connected with real social critique. It is especially galling to witness the comfortable, empty-headed spectacles of the New Age when one recognizes the emancipatory power in their originating impulse. However, those who only have room for a 'real social critique', with no sense of the sacred, no drive, that is, to overcome the ontology of capital as well as its political economy, are certainly no less stunted in their politics, nor can they overcome the domination of nature."

Excuse me for being blunt, but this sort of thinking hardly represents an attempt to reconcile Marxism with Deep Ecology. It is an *adaptation* to Deep Ecology. This question of the "domination of nature" is false since it ignores the *class* question. The reason there is pollution and environmental despoliation has nothing to do with a disbelief in the "sacred." It has to do with the relentless drive of capitalism for profit. The Frankfurters believe that the problem is the domination of nature. Marxists, on the other hand, believe that the problem is the capitalist system.

Furthermore, Marxists must advance a precise, scientific and level- headed answer to these problems. We are scientific thinkers not Shamans. Since there is nothing that is intrinsically "sacred," let's leave that sort of notion to the green-greens. The "sacred" like everything else is a social construction. With enough literacy, people will leave the "sacred" behind them. We should find a way to make an alliance around concrete issues with them, but Deep Ecology as an ideology is deeply reactionary.

The heritage of the Frankfurter School hangs heavily on the green movement, including the Marxist wing. We need to sharpen our Marxist analysis. The Frankfurt School and post-Modernism only get in the way. Marxism has to be as relentless in its criticism of existing class relations as capitalism is in its drive to maximize profits everywhere it can. Fuzzy notions of the "sacred" just get in the way. They lead to the sort of reactionary sentiments expressed by Shiva and her co-thinkers that subsistence agriculture is the *only* meaningful way of life for the Third World. The people of the Third World should make that decision, not people jet-setting from conference to conference advising Westerners that post-colonial people should reject science and technology.