Being and Time (1927) made its appearance between two of the most important Marxist publications since Capital (1867), namely Georg Lukacs’ History and Class Consciousness (1923) and Marx’s 1844 Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts (first published in 1932). It is perhaps less arbitrary to place Heidegger in this context than might be assumed, Heidegger formulates both the historical motivation for the analyses in Being and Time and the task which remains at its end in terms of the concept of “reification of consciousness,” the category central to the philosophically most important essay in Lukacs’ book and later made popular by the discussion of’ “alienation” in Marx’s Manuscripts.
Although Heidegger never wrote extensively on Marx or explicitly referred to Lukacs, those references to Marx which he does make assign him a surprisingly central position within the field of Heidegger’s concerns, Significantly, the dozen references to Marx’s thought which occur in Heidegger’s later writings deal exclusively with Marx’s early manuscript and the Theses on Feuerbach of a year later. A review of Heidegger’s comments on Marx in terms of their misunderstandings as well as their insights raises the suspicion that Heidegger’s familiarity with Marx is limited to a superficial reading of these early writings, an attempt to dismiss Lukacs’ philosophy as insufficiently radical (in the philosophical sense), a sympathy for conservative social criticism and even an openness to propagandistic anti-communism. This impression is, of course at odds with Heidegger’s carefully cultured reputation as a thorough historian of philosophy, a discoverer of what has remained implicit in what is said and a thinker of Being whose inspirations are above merely empirical, political influences.
In view of the
importance Heidegger quietly attributes to Marx’s thought, one is forced to
wonder why he never dealt with Marx in anything like the way he delved into
Nietzsche. The suspicion that this represents an important failing in
Heidegger’s work is a central motivation of the present comparison of Marx
and Heidegger. In order to orient this study on the central issues and to
incorporate what thinking Heidegger has devoted to the question or his
relation to Marx, it is useful to consider hints Heidegger has, almost
parenthetically, sprinkled through his writings. This chapter shall,
therefore, review all his published references to Marx, Marxism and
To begin with, it is
interesting to note what Being and
Time had to say about the Lukacsian
phrase, “reification of consciousness.” There are three passages to
consider. At the very start of Being and Time,
where Heidegger is motivating the investigation of his fundamental ontology of
Dasein (human Being), he argues that even the analysis of reified
consciousness, no matter how critical it may be of the present human
condition, still assumes uncritically the traditional concept of subjectivity
as a standard:
analyses reified consciousness from within a problematized subject/object
metaphysics (unlike Marx, as Heidegger fails to see), Heidegger sets out from
the phenomenon of reified consciousness (formalized in the new terminology as
inauthentic Dasein) in order to get
at the essence behind this appearance. By raising the transcendental question
of the conditions of the possibility of reification or inauthenticity,
Heidegger hopes to arrive at a non-dogmatic conception of authenticity. The
dialectic between the abstract value of capitalist commodities and their
concrete use value, which is at the base of Lukacs’ analysis of reification,
is cast in the aura of a radical ontological investigation in terms of
presence-at-hand and readiness-to-hand. Heidegger’s originality here lies in
his relating ontological categories to temporal structures – to human
temporality in Being and
Toward the end of his
major work, Heidegger indicates that his analysis of temporality is intended
to show the superiority of his analysis of presence-at-hand over Lukacs’
treatment of reification:
If the last part of
this sentence is, indeed, aimed at Lukacs, it does the depth of Lukacs’
analysis little justice. Lukacs in fact gave a coherent argument to show how
human “temporalizing” was historically transformed into “world-time”
due to social changes related to the transformation from the feudal to the
capitalist mode of production. Lukacs’ eminently Marxian analysis suggests a
mediating link between changes in ontological categories and societal
developments, precisely the type of connection which is missing in
Heidegger’s entire path of thought. Further Lukacs quotes Marx as having in
1847 (in The Poverty of
Philosophy) already noted the
reification of qualitative temporality into the quantitative measurement of
time as a consequence of the mechanization of production.
In the end, it is
unclear just how Heidegger’s analysis of the relationship between
reification and temporality is supposed to be superior to Lukacs’. On the
final page of Being and Time, Heidegger calls
his accomplishments merely the “point of departure” and indicates that
all of the crucial questions about reification remain to be settled:
There is an ambiguity
to Heidegger’s relationship to Lukacs which foreshadows his later attitude
to Marx. It is not clear whether Heidegger – who claims his analysis is more
fundamental than Marxism – wishes to reject the thought of Lukacs and Marx
or unobtrusively to translate it into a new conceptualization. While the
question is basically a matter of degree, the opposed strivings do both seem
to be at work in Heidegger’s writings. Whatever the intention of
Heidegger’s references to Lukacs, they clearly present two characteristics
of his approach which are opposed to Marxism and which Adorno singles out for
criticism: the attempt to push all questions back to a fundamental
question and the search for positive
structures to replace Marxism’s negative, but therefore critical, analyses.
In the context of
Heidegger’s life’s work, Being and
Time represents the starting point
of his research, of his path of thought. But much of its approach was later
rejected. During the 1930’s Heidegger reversed his opinion concerning the
Denkens,” the essential
theoretical question which was to stand at the head of his system. From a
concern with the temporality of the individual, Heidegger turned to a meditation on that which assures philosophy
a possible history, i.e., on the conditions of the possibility of an epochal
(historical) structure to the ontological presuppositions which characterize
the presence of beings. The first major public presentation of this new
problematic was Heidegger’s Letter
on Humanism, which took the occasion of a disagreement
with Sartre to unfold Heidegger’s own position. Considering the extensive
and important discussion of Marx in this essay, it can well be considered an
attempt to present Heidegger’s thought as an alternative to Marxism rather
than to existentialism.
Gajo Petrovic, who
analyzes Heidegger’s comments on Marx in his article on “Der Spruch des
Heideggers,” argues that Heidegger has merely indicated a basis for
discussion between the two viewpoints, but has declined to proceed to the
Thus, Heidegger has pointed to two aspects of Marx’s thought which make it
important to the Heideggerian project: the concept of alienation and the
recognition of the historical in Being. However, according to Petrovic,
Heidegger has failed in his understanding of Marx to recognize the unity of
the latter’s thought and, relatedly, to comprehend it in its full
originality. In assuming that Marx’s approach is metaphysically humanistic,
Heidegger consistently misinterprets it, fitting it neatly into the history of
metaphysics without considering what is unique to Marx, and consequently
failing to learn from him or even to join in a fruitful conversation with him.
To correct the shortcomings of Heidegger’s attempt at comparing his own
thought with Marx’s requires an interpretation of the core of each system in
terms of its respective originality. This has been attempted in the following
parts of the present work. The results reached there are here anticipated in
order to review and evaluate Heidegger’s understanding of Marx.
It is important first
of all to note the developmental character of Heidegger’s conscious, or at
least published, relationship to Marx. Being
and Time and the other early writings never mention Marxism despite its
extraordinary significance in the intellectual atmosphere of a seemingly
pre-revolutionary Germany – at most a facile dig is made at Lukacs. In the
war years, when Heidegger was meditating upon spirit, art and Nietzsche in an
attempt to rebut Nazi ideology, he identified Marxism with the mechanistic
simplifications of crude Diamat (Marxism-Leninism), rather than trying to
develop a humane and critical Marxism as did other independent thinkers –
Adorno and Merleau-Ponty, for instance. For Heidegger, Marxism is viewed as
just as much of the social problem as fascism:
There is no attempt
made here to distinguish what is of value in Marx’s thought from its vulgar
distortion. Around 1940, when he was engaged in a monumental task of
interpreting Nietzsche in explicit opposition to the prevailing interpretation
by the Nazis, Heidegger still seems to have uncritically accepted the Nazi
view of Marx as a political ideologue with no philosophical originality to
Not until the Letter
on Humanism is Marx taken as a serious thinker.
Heidegger’s pronouncements are problematic, as Petrovic points out.
Heidegger puts Marx’s key terms in quotation marks to indicate that they are
questionable without bothering to question what Marx meant by them. There is
no recognition on Heidegger’s part that Marx uses the adjectives
“human,” “social” or “natural” in a critical way: as dialectically
opposed to “alienated.” On the contrary, Heidegger implies that the use of
these terms makes Marx into a traditional, metaphysical humanist, a writer who
merely accepts the dogmatic view of humanity as having a fixed essence. That
Marx developed his concepts through a critique
of Hegelian metaphysics – a specific negation, not a simple inversion –
suggests that Marx may have escaped the metaphysical position, particularly in
his mature works where the Hegelian terms rarely appear even in their critical
form. Further, the concern with securing economic sufficiency is so reductive
of Marx’s thought that it is more appropriate to that non-Marxian,
non-philosophical “materialism” Heidegger refers to elsewhere.
But such “materialism,” the greed for material goods as opposed to the
higher “values,” is unrelated to Marx except as ignorant caricature.
The next mention of
Marx puts him in good company in Heidegger’s scenario: right along with
This evaluation of
Marx is repeated in later years without further explanation:
While Heidegger spent several years and over a thousand published pages to explain how Nietzsche had inverted the metaphysics which held sway from Plato’s Republic to Hegel’s Logic and Schelling’s essay on human freedom, he has not dedicated a single phrase to the possibility that Marx’s Capital might have left that tradition behind – as Heidegger’s own Verwindung followed his Überwindung of metaphysics. Having struggled so hard to learn from the example of Nietzsche’s failure to transcend metaphysics, Heidegger seems to have avoided raising the question whether Marx might have something positive to contribute. It seems that Heidegger’s political conservatism and his flirtations with an existentialist jargon led him to ignore Marx in favor of Nietzsche until his own thought had really developed and he could see the parallels with Marx. Not only would an earlier study of Marx have saved Heidegger from traveling down some dark dead-end trails (“Holzwege,” as he calls them), but a more profound understanding of Marx might still help to fill in some content in the emptiness of Heidegger’s concepts.
that a productive discussion with Marxism would focus on the related terms
“alienation” and “homelessness,” both understood in relation to an
essential dimension of history – not psychologically. The key to the
analysis would be a consideration of the essence of technology. Through an
understanding of the essence of technology, one could discover why today
everything appears as the material of labor.
Until one associates
the term “materialism” with Marx as a dialectical materialist, what
Heidegger says is fine. But Heidegger clearly does make this identification,
thinking he is saving Marx’s philosophy from interpretations which are even
It is crucial to show
that Marx does not simply posit all beings as material of labor and nothing
more, for it is this supposed assumption which makes Marx a metaphysical
thinker in Heidegger’s eyes, relating him to both Hegel and Nietzsche. This
metaphysical position is appropriately attributed to Ernst Junger’s
non-Marxian book, Der Arbeiter,
which Heidegger carefully studied, but not to Marx’s writings.
Even within the labor process, Marx distinguishes between that moment of an
object which is mere grist for the mills of capitalist industry and that
indissoluble kernel of nature which is in principle out of humanity’s reach.
In Capital it is only as abstract
exchange value, not as concrete use value, that the commodity corresponds to
what Heidegger has in mind as material of labor. Further, abstract value does
not represent a metaphysical assumption on the part of Marx; he understands it
as an historical appearance, a fetish, which reaches its extreme form in
automation. Marx’s concept remains critical of the present metaphysical
character of beings as commodities in terms of both a pre-capitalist past and
a projected future. Marx’s epochs and their political content may not
correspond exactly to Heidegger’s scheme, but surely the two share a
critical distance from the contemporary “metaphysical determination” which
Heidegger attributes to the essence of materialism. The reduction of nature to
material for labor is, in Marx’s account, a social product, not the result
of his or Hegel’s autonomous speculation. Marx’s “materialism”
consists precisely in the thesis of the primacy of societal mediations in
determining ontological categories: the very principle Heidegger repeatedly
overlooks in his interpretation of Marx and consistently lacks in his own
In later comments,
Heidegger rather flippantly casts Marx aside, but only to underline the
crucial question underlying his attempt to provide an alternative to Marxism:
What is the heart of the matter, the essence which must determine the path for
critical thought today? In the process, Heidegger suggests that Marx failed
through too great an eagerness for action:
Heidegger is justly
well-known for his quietism, his contemplative stance of letting Being be.
Insofar as this is not merely a way of making a methodological demand similar
to that of descriptive phenomenology, it may be understandable as a political
judgment in times very different from Marx’s. After all, on the one hand
Heidegger enthusiastically jumped on the bandwagon of activism in the early
1930’s and it is understandable that he would seek to avoid that error being
repeated. On the other hand, the example of Adorno shows that even a Marxist
may have to argue against prevalent forms of activism and resign himself to
contemplation as a result of the political climate.
Marx’s point –
according to his eleventh thesis which Heidegger insists on not understanding
despite his adherence to it – is that philosophical interpretation must not
be an end in itself, but must be part of a hermeneutic circle which includes
the anticipation of a transformed world, thereby intervening critically in the
given reality. However, there is something to Heidegger’s argument. Marx’s
activism is related to his view of the centrality of the socio-economic, the
political questions, answers to which demand conscious human action.
alternative, that the essential question is the question of Being, does not so
obviously involve political action, but seems to belong more to the
contemplative realm of the study of philosophy. Nevertheless, Heidegger opens
the Letter on Humanism
with the statement that, “Our thinking about the essence of action is still
far from resolute enough,” suggesting that thinking about Being may also be
a form of social action. For Marxists, it is clear that ontological reflection
is not divorced from social practice, for better or worse. Again, the problem
of activism and quietism in Marxism and Heidegger may be helped to its
resolution through the discussion between them.
In the mature
statement of his system, the essay Time
(1962), Heidegger does not list Marx’s “metaphysics” next to
Nietzsche’s in the history of philosophy; he entirely ignores Marx. However,
in subsequent reflections on the relation of his own thought to other recent
philosophers or to the task of thought today, Heidegger is still very much
concerned with Marx. In the following passage he still views Marx as
metaphysically grounding the way things are in the “dialectical mediation of
the movement of the historical process of production.”
There is something to
this: it recognizes the historical dimension of Marx’s analysis and it is
true that for Marx the character of beings is dependent upon the predominant
conditions of production in society. Further, Marx sometimes suggests that
all history can be viewed in these terms – this outlook has subsequently
been systematized under the name historical materialism and turned into a
truly metaphysical dogma.
However, Marx can at
least also be interpreted as arguing that the primacy of commodity production
– as the essential category of
social analysis, rather than simply as one precondition
of social existence – is itself historically-specific; that this primacy is
part of the problem with capitalism; and that this primacy must itself be
explained, i.e., taken as a symptom. This latter view of Marx is part of a
more sophisticated understanding of his methodology, one which places him in
close proximity to Heidegger. When incorporated into the comparison of Marx
and Heidegger, this interpretation not only speaks to the inherent needs of
Heideggerian theory, but benefits from the confrontation itself in terms of
problematizing its foundations. For, as the last quotations suggest,
Heidegger’s main claim is that he is being philosophically more radical (ursprünglich)
than Marx. A Marxist can argue that it is not the “final questions” which
are important – even assuming they make sense or can be answered – but
those more modest questions which are abstract enough to make possible a
critical theory, but specific enough to be useful. Both Marx and Adorno, for
instance, make this reasonable point. Yet, Heidegger’s challenge here is
more specific: does Marx’s thought “represent” beings as “grounded”
in a way which Heidegger avoids?
rests upon the assumption that Marx simply reversed traditional philosophy,
retaining its unfortunate habit of grounding all beings in some particular,
Heidegger would have
us believe that Marx transformed representing, grounding metaphysics into
empirical science (political economy, sociology, political science,
anthropology), which grounds everything in a preconceived notion of its
object: man or society. We have already indicated that this is a distorted
view of Marx’s dialectical, critical, emancipatory “science.” Even if
Heidegger can get away with claiming that “normal” science (research
within a paradigm) does not think, i.e., does not question its foundations,
that cannot be extended to Marx, no matter how often Marx used the term
“science” or how much content his concepts articulate, for he rejects the
need for foundations a la
fundamental ontology. Calculative thinking adds richness to Marx’s thought,
for it informs his conceptual framework rather than presupposing it; his
empirical research is dialectically intertwined with its own guiding theory as
expressed in the systematic presentation.
reference to Marx, in a 1969 television broadcast, indicates three further
(1) Talk of society
is metaphysical because society is posited as an absolute (unconditioned)
Marx is involved in “representing” the world, which, according to
Heidegger’s essay on the “Age of the World-view,” involves grounding the
world in the interpreting subject.
Marxism remains philosophically within the subject/object relation and
therefore cannot grasp the essence of technology.
Heidegger implies that Marx conceived of society as the collective will of
free subjectivities who had but to agree upon change for it to be
accomplished. While Heidegger may have attributed this view to Marx on the
basis of reading Lukacs, it is an unacceptable interpretation. For Marx,
society is not a being, capitalism is not a thing; Marx’s analysis aims
precisely at dispelling such fetishisms. This naive view of society as
absolute subject seems much more to underlie Heidegger’s own enthusiasm for
the Hitler state’s act of taking its destiny into its own hands, as
expressed in Heidegger’s 1933 Rektoratsrede.
It is precisely such a voluntaristic conception of society which Marx attacked
in his arguments with liberalism, utopianism, anarchism and vulgar socialism.
Far from calling for an arbitrary transformation of society which would create
a new social formation ex nihilo
or by subjective will power, Marx developed a theory incorporating a strong
sense of social destiny. Revolutionary freedom consisted, for him, primarily
in the recognition and comprehension of the pervasive power of prevailing
social relations and productive forces to define potentials and limitations
within society and to condition any attempt at social transformations or
conservations. The task of the revolutionary subject is thus given by his
objective contexts to encourage the existing liberatory tendencies and
possibilities while resisting the forces of reaction and repression. Perhaps
the charge of absolute subjectivity is more plausibly directed against the
process of production in Marx’s account than against his concept of society
as such. The outlines of the development of the modes of production –
Asiatic, classical, feudal, capitalist, socialist – may give the appearance
of an autonomous process of self-negation on the Hegelian model. However, the
historical details in any of Marx’s extended presentations – i.e., in The
German Ideology, “Forms which Precede Capitalist Production” and Capital,
versus the popular summaries in the “Preface” to Towards
of Political Economy or in
the Communist Manifesto – stress the interplay of the various kinds of objective
conditions, geography, trade, politics, economic determinants, cultural
biases, etc. Further, where the mode of production develops in conjunction
with another factor – the establishment of a monetary system or the growth
of scientific knowledge, for instance – neither is simply founded in the
other; rather, Marx shows how they support each other dialectically as mutual
Heidegger’s claim that Marx’s representation of the world grounds the
world in the interpreting subject is questionable on two counts. It has
already been suggested that Marx’s method consists in an interplay between
research and systematic presentation. That means that the resulting
representation of the world is derived from the reality which it
“articulates” in the double
sense of structuring and verbalizing. Secondly, for Marx, theories of society
– including those ideologies which form the object of much of his research,
as well as his own writings – cannot be divorced from the society they
mirror. Thus even if Marx’s representation of the world were shown to be
grounded in his subjectivity, this is itself mediated through and through by
objectivity and knows itself to be.
Also problematic is Heidegger’s condemnation of Marx’s understanding of
technology as remaining philosophically within the subject/object relation.
It is by no means clear that one can ignore the subject/object dichotomy as
simply as Heidegger has attempted. Hegel had already taken the alternative
approach in trying to reconcile subject and object in the historical process
of their dialectical development. Marx criticized Hegel’s result as
idealistic, arguing that the dichotomy had a basis in social reality and could
therefore only be resolved through a transformation of the form of social
relations. In the case of the subject/object relation, as in that of the
essence/appearance distinction and the view of nature as material for labor,
the factors in Marx’s system are not dogmatic postulates to be discarded
lightly, but aspects of reality under the constraints of the capitalist
system. When Marx refers to the subject/object relation in his investigation
of technology, it is not as a metaphysical principle of his system, but a part
of the ideology which he is subjecting to immanent critique. Marx’s own
theory of technology is based on his theory of surplus value, which is not
directly related to a subject/object problematic.
This is where
Heidegger’s published position on Marx stands at the present and where it is
likely to remain standing as far as Heidegger is personally concerned. These
few explicit references are, of course, merely the surface appearance of the
relation of the content of Heidegger’s system to that of Marx. The task of
interpretation is to bridge the gap between the explicit and the implicit. The
ambiguity of Heidegger’s style, which surrounds a poverty of apparent
content with an aura of hidden profundity, makes this task slippery. The range
of possibilities is wide. Has Heidegger fallen so far behind Hegel
philosophically that he cannot comprehend Marx’s advances? Or has his
thought gone so far beyond us that it remains unintelligible? The truth of the
matter probably lies near the center of the middle ground between these
extremes; that, at least, is the heuristic principle of the present work.
 Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, p. 72, S. 46.
 Ibid., p. 472, S. 420. Cf. Georg Lukacs, Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein (Berlin: Malik, 1967), S. 100f.
 Ibid., p. 487, S. 436f.
 Gajo Petrovik, “Der Spruch des Heideggers,” Durchblicke. Martin Heidegger zum 80. Geburtstag (Frankfurt: Klosterman, 1970), S. 412ff.
 Martin Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics (Garden City: Anchor, 1961), p. 38f. Cf. Martin Heidegger, Einführung in die Metaphysik (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1958), S. 35f.
 Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche (Pfullingen: Neske, 1961), Bd. II, S. 132.
 Martin Heidegger, “Letter on humanism,” Philosophy in the Twentieth Century (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), vol. III, p. 197. Cf. Martin Heidegger, “Humanismusbrief,” Wegmarken (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1967), S. 151.
 Cf. Martin Heidegger, Der Satz von Grund (Pfullingen: Neske, 1971), S. 199f.
 “Letter on humanism,” p. 206, S. 166.
 Martin Heidegger, What is Philosophy? (bilingual ed., New Haven: College & University Press, n.d.).
 Martin Heidegger, Hegel und die Griechen,” Wegmarken (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1967), S. 260f.
 “Letter on humanism,” p. 209, S. 170.
 Ernst Jünger, Der Arbeiter: Herrschaft und Gestalt (Hamburg, 1932). Heidegger praises this book for having “achieved a description of European nihilism in its phase after World War I” and for making “the ‘total work character’ of all reality visible from the figure of the worker.” He characterizes it as “a clear-sighted book” which understandably “was being watched and was finally forbidden” by the Nazis. Cf. Martin Heidegger, The Question of Being (bilingual ed., New Haven: College & University Press, 1958), p. 40ff. Herbert Marcuse (Herbert Marcuse, “The affirmative character of culture,” Negations. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969, p. 128) presents a different evaluation of Jünger’s book, viewing it as part of the ideological preparations for German fascism in the 1930’s:
The cynical suggestions
offered by Jünger are vague and restricted primarily to art. ‘Just as the
victor writes history, i.e., creates his myths, so he decides what is to
count as art.’ Even art must enter the service of national defense and of
labor and military discipline. (Jünger mentions city planning: the
dismemberment of large city blocks in order to disperse the masses in the
event of war and revolution, the military organization of the countryside,
and so forth.) Insofar as such culture aims at the enrichment,
beautification and security of the authoritarian state, it is marked by its
social function of organizing the whole society in the interest of a few
economically powerful groups and the hangers on.
 The indissoluble kernel has been likened to the Kantian Ding-an-sich – transformed from the realm of conception to that of labor – by Alfred Schmidt in his Marx’s Concept of Nature (London: New Left Books, 1972).
 Martin Heidegger, What is Called Thinking? (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 24.
 Martin Heidegger, “Kant’s These über das Sein,” Wegmarken (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1967), p. 274f.
 Martin Heidegger, “The end of philosophy and the task of thinking,” On Time and Being (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), p. 56. Cf. Martin Heidegger, “Das Ende der Philosophie und die Aufgabe des Denkens,” Zur Sache des Denkens (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1969), S. 62.
 Ibid., p. 57, S. 63.
 Martin Heidegger im Gespräch (Freiburg: Alber, 1969), S. 68f, 73f.
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