Herbert Marcuse – darling of the New Left

“I believe that Marcuse’s ideas can be as valuable today as they were fifty years ago.”––Angela Davis.

When I was at University in the 1970s trying to overthrow the state government, there were radical groups that followed the writings of Herbert Marcuse, a German philosopher who became the darling of the New Left because he challenged orthodox Marxism.

Marcuse wrote One-Dimensional Man which sold out in the mid 1960s to a new generation looking for change. He strongly criticized ‘consumerism and modern “industrial society”, which he claims is a form of social control. Marcuse argues that while the system we live in may claim to be democratic, it is actually totalitarian’ [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-Dimensional_Man].

At the time all this was far beyond my comprehension. Now Nick Thorkelson has produced a cartoon book about Marcuse which may help people like me understand what he wrote.

However, I did have a critique of the ‘New Left’, which LeftPress published in the 1970s – The Life and Times of a Middle-class Leftie

You can listen to this fascinating interview with Thorkelson on Against the Grain from KPFA Pacifica Radio below.

“The failed German Revolution, in which he was a participant, marked the Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse for life. But unlike some of his more pessimistic colleagues in the Frankfurt School, particularly after the rise of fascism, Marcuse did not give up on liberatory possibilities. In the 1960s, Marcuse became one of the key philosophers of the New Left, in which he found a mass audience. Author and illustrator Nick Thorkelson has written a graphic biography of Marcuse and he discusses his life, ideas, and continuing relevance.” – Against the Grain KPFA .

Interview by Sasha Lilley with Nick Thorkelson starts at 6:00

Ian Curr
12 Jan 2021