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Chapter II

Chapter II. Heidegger’s Critique of Marx

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 materialism.

Heidegger’s Early Criticisms

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:

Ontologically, every idea of a ‘subject’ – unless refined by a previous ontological determination of its basic character – still posits the subjectum (hypokeimenon) along with it, no matter how vigorous one’s ontical protestations against the ‘soul substance’ or the ‘reification of consciousness.’ Thinghood itself which such reification implies must have its ontological origin demonstrated if we are to be in a position to ask what we are to understand positively when we think of the nonreified Being of the subject, the soul, the consciousness, the spirit, the person.[1]

Where Lukacs’ 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 Time.

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 world-time thus belongs to the temporalizing of temporality, then it can neither be violated ‘subjectivistically’ not ‘reified’ by a vicious ‘objectification’.[2]

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:

The distinction between the Being of existing Dasein and the Being of being which does not have the character of Dasein may appear very illuminating: but it is still only the point of departure for the ontological problematic; it is nothing with which philosophy may tranquilize itself. It has long been known that ancient ontology works with ‘thing-concepts’ and that there is a danger of ‘reifying consciousness.’ But what does this reifying signify? Where does it arise? Why does Being get ‘conceived’ ‘proximally’ in terms of the present-at-hand and not in terms of the ready-to-hand, which indeed lies even closer? Why does this reifying always keep coming back to power? How is the Being of ‘consciousness’ positively structured such that reification remains inappropriate to it? Is the ‘distinction’ between ‘consciousness’ and ‘thing’ sufficient for tackling the ontological problematic in a primordial manner? Do the answers to these questions lie along our way? And can the answer even be sought as long as the question of the meaning of Being remains unformulated and unclarified?[3]

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.

Political Distortions

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 “Sache des 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 comparison.[4] 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:

The spirit falsified into intelligence thus falls to the role of a tool in the service of others, a tool the manipulation of which can be taught and learned. Whether this use of intelligence relates to the regulation and domination of the material conditions of production (as in Marxism) or in general to the intelligent ordering and explanation of everything that is present and already posited at any time (as in positivism), or whether it is applied to the organization and regulation of the mass and race of a folk, in any case the spirit as intelligence becomes the impotent superstructure of something else, which, because it is without spirit or even opposed to the spirit, is taken for the authentic reality. If the spirit is taken as intelligence, as is done in the most extreme form of (by?) Marxism, . . . (1935)[5]

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 offer.

That the medieval theologians study Plato and Aristotle in their own way, i.e., giving them a new meaning, is the same as that Karl Marx used Hegel’s metaphysics for his own political world-view. (1940)[6]

Not until the Letter on Humanism is Marx taken as a serious thinker.

But whence and how is the essence of man determined? Marx demands that the ‘human man’ be known and acknowledged. He finds this man in ‘society’. The ‘social’ man is for him the ‘natural’ man. In ‘society’ the ‘nature’ of man, which means all of his ‘natural needs’ (food, clothing, reproduction, economic sufficiency), is equally secured. (1946)[7]

Even here, 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.[8] 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 Nietzsche:

Absolute metaphysics belongs with its inversions by Marx and Nietzsche to the history of the truth of Being. (1946)[9]

This evaluation of Marx is repeated in later years without further explanation:

But in what does the telos consist, the consummation of modern philosophy, if we may speak of such? In Hegel or not until Schelling’s late philosophy? And how about Marx and Nietzsche? (1955)[10]

And again:

Marx and Nietzsche are the greatest Hegelians. . . . The consummation is only as the total process of the history of philosophy, in which process the beginning remains as essential as the consummation: Hegel and the Greeks. (1958)[11]

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.

Heidegger suggests 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.

Homelessness becomes a world destiny. It is, therefore, necessary to think of this destiny from the point of view of the history of Being. What Marx, deriving from Hegel, recognized in an essential and significant sense as the alienation of man, reaches roots back into the homelessness of modern man. This is evoked – from the destiny or Being – in the form of metaphysics, strengthened by it and at the same time covered by it in its character as homelessness. Because Marx, in discovering this alienation, reaches into an essential dimension of history, the Marxist view of history excels all other history. Because, however, neither Husserl nor, as far as I can see, Sartre recognizes the essentially historical character of Being, neither phenomenology nor existentialism can penetrate that dimension within which a productive discussion with Marxism is alone possible.

For this it is necessary to liberate oneself from the naive conceptions of materialism and from the cheap, supposedly effective, refutations of it. The essence of materialism does not consist of the assertion that everything is merely matter, but rather of a metaphysical determination according to which all beings appear as the material of labor. The modern metaphysical essence of labor is anticipated in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit as the self-establishing process of unconditional production; i.e., the objectification of the actual through man experienced as subjectivity. The essence of materialism is concealed in the essence of technology, about which, indeed, a great deal is written, but little is thought. Technology in its essence is a destiny (in the history of Being) of the truth of Being resting in forgetfulness. (1946)[12]

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 more naive.

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.[13] 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.[14] 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 thought.

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:

None of us know what craft modern man must engage in in the technical world, must engage in even if he is not a worker in the sense of a worker on the machine. Even Hegel, even Marx could not yet know this and ask this, because even their thought still had to move in the shadow of the essence of technology, which is why they never freed themselves to think about this essence adequately. No matter how important the socio-economic, the political, the moral, even the religious questions may be, which are handled in relation to the technical craft, none of them reach at all in the yet unthought essence of the manner in which everything is at all which stands under the domination of the essence of technology. This has remained unthought because the will to act, i.e., to make and cause, has crushed thought. (1952)[15]


However, the transformation of the world so considered requires first that thought change, just as behind this (Marx’s) demand a transformation of thought already stands. (Cf. Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, 11) But in what manner should thought change itself if it does not set itself on the path into that which is worthy of thought? (1962)[16]

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.

Heidegger’s 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.

Heidegger’s Mature Criticisms

In the mature statement of his system, the essay Time and Being (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.”

Metaphysics thinks about beings in the manner of representational thinking which grounds (with reasons). For since the beginning of philosophy and, with that beginning, the Being of beings has shown itself as the ground (arche, aition, principle). The ground is that from which beings as such are what they are and how they are in their becoming, perishing and persisting as knowable, manipulated, worked. As the ground, Being brings beings to their respective presencing. The ground shows itself as presence. The present of presence consists in the fact that it brings what is present each in its own way to presence. In accordance with the kind of presence, the ground has the character of grounding as the ontic causation of the real, as the transcendental making possible of the objectivity or objects, as the dialectical mediation of the movement of the absolute spirit, of the historical process of production, as the will to power positing values. What characterizes metaphysical thinking, which grounds the ground for beings, is that metaphysical thinking, starting from what is present, represents this in its presence and thus presents it in terms of its ground, as something grounded. (1964)[17]

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?

Heidegger’s claim rests upon the assumption that Marx simply reversed traditional philosophy, retaining its unfortunate habit of grounding all beings in some particular, higher being:

Throughout the whole history of philosophy, Plato’s thinking remains decisive in changing forms. Metaphysics is Platonism. Nietzsche characterizes his philosophy as reversed Platonism. With the reversal of metaphysics which was already accomplished by Karl Marx, the most extreme possibility of philosophy is attained. It has entered its end. (1964)[18]

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.

Heidegger’s final reference to Marx, in a 1969 television broadcast, indicates three further criticisms:

(1) Talk of society is metaphysical because society is posited as an absolute (unconditioned) subject (agent).

 (2) 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.

 (3) Marxism remains philosophically within the subject/object relation and therefore cannot grasp the essence of technology.

 (Professor Heidegger, . . . Do you see a social mandate for philosophy?)

No. One cannot speak of a social mandate in this sense. If one wants to answer this question, one must first ask: “What is society?” and must then reflect that today’s society is just the absolutizing of modern subjectivity and that from this perspective a philosophy which has overcome the standpoint of subjectivity cannot enter the discussion. Another question is, to what extent one can speak of a transformation of society. The question about the demand to transform the world leads to a much-quoted sentence by Karl Marx in the Theses on Feuerbach. I would like to cite it exactly and read it: “The philosophers have merely interpreted the world differently; the important thing is to transform it.” In citing this sentence and in following this sentence, one ignores the fact that a transformation of the world presupposes a change of the representation of the world and that a representation of the world can only be won when one interprets the world sufficiently.

That is, Marx bases himself on a certain interpretation of the world in order to demand its “transformation,” and thereby we can see that this sentence is unfounded. It gives the impression of speaking decisively against philosophy, although in the second part of the sentence the demand for philosophy is silently presupposed. . . . I see, however, in the essence of technology the first glimpse of a much deeper secret, which I name the Ereignis, the event of appropriation – from which you can gather that there can be no question of a resistance to or a negative judgment of technology. Rather, it is important to understand the essence of technology and the technical world. It seems to me that that cannot occur as long as one remains philosophically within the subject/object relation. That is, the essence of technology cannot be understood on the basis of Marxism. (1969)[19]

 (1) 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 a Critique 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 preconditions.

 (2) 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.

 (3) 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.

[1] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, p. 72, S. 46.

[2] Ibid., p. 472, S. 420. Cf. Georg Lukacs, Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein (Berlin: Malik, 1967), S. 100f.

[3] Ibid., p. 487, S. 436f.

[4] Gajo Petrovik, “Der Spruch des Heideggers,” Durchblicke. Martin Heidegger zum 80. Geburtstag (Frankfurt: Klosterman, 1970), S. 412ff.

[5] Martin Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics (Garden City: Anchor, 1961), p. 38f. Cf. Martin Heidegger, Einführung in die Metaphysik (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1958), S. 35f.

[6] Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche (Pfullingen: Neske, 1961), Bd. II, S. 132.

[7] 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.

[8] Cf. Martin Heidegger, Der Satz von Grund (Pfullingen: Neske, 1971), S. 199f.

[9] “Letter on humanism,” p. 206, S. 166.

[10] Martin Heidegger, What is Philosophy? (bilingual ed., New Haven: College & University Press, n.d.).

[11] Martin Heidegger, Hegel und die Griechen,” Wegmarken (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1967), S. 260f.

[12] “Letter on humanism,” p. 209, S. 170.

[13] 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.

[14] 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).

[15] Martin Heidegger, What is Called Thinking? (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 24.

[16] Martin Heidegger, “Kant’s These über das Sein,” Wegmarken (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1967), p. 274f.

[17] 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.

[18] Ibid., p. 57, S. 63.

[19] Martin Heidegger im Gespräch (Freiburg: Alber, 1969), S. 68f, 73f.


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