IF HERBERT MARCUSE had given his speech at Harvard instead of at Boston University on Tuesday night this campus would now be in flames.
What the revolution needs almost as much as leaders is philosophers. Too many half-rate thinkers have degraded the movement into a vague out-cry against ill-defined systems and for uncertain goals. Pragmatists, students of revolution, and politicians want to know just what they are fighting for and why they will win. Marcuse is the only man who can answer them in the logical, formal terms they demand.
We are fighting against a society which represses us, but we can't just lash out blindly. We must pick out targets. There are four that Marcuse says are the keystones of modern society--the global involvement of United States armed forces, the increasing U.S. and Soviet collusion, the spread of national wars of liberation, and the new avenues of socialism which have been opened in the last decades.
For Marcuse and his followers these are not just slogans to be shouted at a rally. They are theories to be defined and proven. Only collusion between the United States and Russia, for example, could have made possible the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. It is not a formal collusion, but an informal agreement that we are willing to fight for our "principles" in certain well defined areas while the Soviets are left free to fight for theirs in others. The whole thing smacks remarkably of the kind of spheres of influence which Germany and the Soviets defined in 1939.
Follow his logic and you can see it. You can reason out feelings which were previously undefined and stemmed from the heart more than the mind. You feel it, Marcuse says, because you have not yet been co-opted by a system which offers physical comforts to everyone in exchange for freedom of soul and of action. Workers are co-opted and will not rise to join the students until they can be freed from the giant labor unions which are just as much a part of the system as are the monopolies. The task before us is to break down the giant system, to talk to people as individuals, not as workers or owners. Above all our task is to demonstrate the folly and hypocrisy of modern life.
MARCUSE'S speech was full of the cliches which have become part of college life. But under his guidance they were no longer cliches. Words like repressive, co-opted, and liberation took on a new, fresh meaning under his masterful diction. I was ready to follow him anywhere.
His view of what society will be after the revolution is the only part of his philosophy which seemed to fall short. "The ideas I find in Marx are still good enough for me," he said. It's very nice to think about a perfect communist society, a classless state where people are truly free of the economic bonds which kill ours.
But how will the revolution come? How will the workers rise, when they don't even know that they must? Marcuse doesn't really know. "I am more encouraged by the prospects than I was when I wrote One Dimensional Man," he said. "The inflation and the student discontent might make possible a revolution I once thought might never come." This is the real key, for without some form of economic distress modern revolutions have never succeeded.
The sad part came at the end. I was ready to go, ready to rise, ready even to burn. After the brilliant man was through a boy stood up. "Some of us want to go down to the administration building and occupy it behind the military demands," he said. "Everybody who wants to go stand up." Eleven people in a hall of 5000 rose.
Marcuse wasn't sad. He knows that people are fat and lazy. But the few students who are fighting for his revolution give him hope. When it comes, and the workers realize that the system has failed them, those students will lead it. They are the prophets and Marcuse is their Messiah. The new society will be molded by his ideas.