Magpie begins with this observation: "I got the general impression, from the tutorial, that the process of combining the insights of Freud and Marx by Western Marxists in a way is an attempt to provide micro-foundations to Marxist thought. The Marginal Revolution (from Menger, Jevons and Walras), for instance, was supposed to trace economic behaviour back to individual's "rational" decision-making. Similarly, Freud would, within Marxist thought, provide the "micro" theory. Then, quoting me, 'Freud took the larger social and economic world of himself and his patients as a given fact, to which, as a medical doctor, he gave very little thought. His realm of investigation was the individual unconscious, with heavy emphasis on the development of the unconscious in early childhood'."
I think this reading by Magpie is exactly correct. By the time the Frankfurt School thinkers came along, Marx's economic theories were well and widely understood by them, as were Freud's theories, but they could see that Marx's analysis, at the level of the capitalist economic relations of production and distribution did not in any useful or obvious way connect with Freud's insights into individual motivation. Erich Fromm, Max Horkheimer, Theodore Adorno, Herbert Marcuse and others undertook to make those connections. Marcuse had two brilliant ideas, it seems to me, that he set out in two books: One Dimensional Man and Eros and Civilization.
The two ideas, briefly [this could take hours otherwise] were these: First, "surplus repression," a riff on Marx's notion of "surplus labor." Marcuse accepted Freud's claim that civilization rests on the repression, or at least sublimation, of powerful infantile libidinal urges and drives. All of us must learn to defer gratification in order to interact productively with the world, to become toilet trained, to restrain our sexual drives, and substitute the reality principle for the pleasure principle, as Freud put it. But, in a brilliant turn, Marcuse argued that capitalism exacts surplus repression over and above what is required for civilization, a surplus whose only function is to get us to do the excess work required to feed capitalism's insatiable appetite for profit.
Marcuse's second insight, fostered by his observation of cultural changes in the Sixties, was that capitalism robs our sublimated desires of their revolutionary potential by what he called "repressive desublimation." This idea is a bit more complicated to explain, and interested readers are urged to look up my tutorial either on box.net or in Volume IV Part Two of my Collected Papers, available as an e-book on Amazon.com. Briefly, Marcuse's claim is that the psychic energy that fuels the unsatisfied infantile fantasies of omnipotence and instant gratification can serve as the impetus to real-world revolutionary action, despite the fact that the fantasies are doomed to be let unsatisfied. These longings find their public expression in such acts of cultural defiance as hairstyles, music, speech, and sexual transgressions. Modern capitalism, Marcuse suggests, has learned to convert those rebellions into emasculated, denatured tools of advertising and the sale of cultural commodities. The desublimation is, paradoxically, repressive, not liberatory , because it disconnects the public displays from the unconscious revolutionary roots.
Magpie goes on: "My question is: must social science be ultimately grounded on individual human behaviour? What about "structures"? I suppose I am trying to query about your views on the ontology of social sciences and Marxism implied by Freud."
Well, I always get queasy when folks start talking about ontology, but my answer is that a fully satisfactory understanding of capitalist society requires both a systematic analysis of economic, political, and other institutional structures, in an historical context, and an understanding of the roots of individual action, the two ideally being integrated into a seamless theoretical and descriptive whole. A tall order, obviously, and no one yet has accomplished it, but that is what we ought to be trying to do, I think. This implies, of course, that we must ignore disciplinary academic boundaries, and inform ourselves about everything that bears on our effort -- economics, history, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, literary theory, political science -- the works.
Magpie concludes by asking "More generally, as a Marxist philosopher active and participating in theoretical debates during the 20th century, how do you evaluate developments such as the New Left?"
Like Marcuse [who was, of course, a generation or more older than I], I was excited by the New Left. Indeed, I suppose I was part of it, although I did not sing its songs [preferring Bach cantatas] or smoke its pot or, save on the rare occasion, go on its marches. For a while, I really believed we were in this country on the very edge of a new day. The murders -- of JFK, RFK, Malcolm X, MLK -- were a blow to the pit of the stomach, but even so, I thought the promise of the labor movement and the New Deal and the old Socialist movement of which my grandfather was a part would be realized. When all the shouting and singing died down, we found that we had a very real and enormously productive Civil Rights Movement, sparked, led, and staffed by African-Americans. We had the beginnings of a Women's Movement that, a little later, worked major changes in America and continues to do so today. We had a big cultural shift, which seemed to consist principally in more casual clothing, more facial hair, pot smoking, and an end to the assumption that an FBI agent in a movie was automatically the Good Guy -- and very little else. Nixon resigned, but we got a major shift of American politics to the right, not to the left. I suppose the biggest real and important institutional change of that period was the end of the military draft and the creation of a professional army that could, without significant public opposition, be used as an instrument of empire.
Well, I hope this serves as an answer, Magpie. Thank you for the questions.