The explicit rejection of the dominant consumer culture, in addition to the waste and war associated with it, and the celebration of eroticism and "outlawed" forms of enjoyment. But how is it possible to imagine that the working class -- exploited, brutalized, largely-uneducated, and kept in severe deprivation by the capitalist system -- can take on such a mission?
The theory of reification, which is built upon Marx's notion of "the fetishism of commodities" argues that the capitalist labor process has a profound impact on the way in which workers experience the world around them. These changes transform the individual worker into a cog in the machine, an insignificant bit-player, spending the working day either on the mechanized assembly line of the factory, or in the immense office system of a business or government bureaucracy. From the standpoint of the individual, these twin, highly-rationalized systems of production appear to have a life of their own, that is, they appear to exist as powerful agents capable of determining the fate of the living, breathing person. The vast factory system and the corporate and bureaucratic structures are inanimate things that appear to be alive and that transform human beings into things obedient to their laws. At the same time when the theory of reification was worked out within the Marxist theory, Franz Kafka, in his novels of the 1920s, "The Trial" and "The Castle," gave the most telling and poignant representation ever conceived of a world of fully reified social relations. Lukacz argued that the reification of the worker was necessarily incomplete because the human life process could never be fully incorporated into the abstract forms of the business and bureaucratic systems. There would be always a residue appearing in misery, hunger, and the sense of injustice capable of inspiring revolutionary aspirations under the right conditions.
As a seller of labor power the worker was the embodiment of the capitalist category of the commodity, the "self-consciousness of the commodity." But this self-consciousness was fraught with contradiction. The quantitative differences in exploitation which appear to the capitalist in the form of quantitative determinants of the objects of his calculation, must appear to the worker as the decisive, qualitative categories of his whole physical, mental and moral existence. Simply put, for the capitalist lowering the cost of labor is a matter of business, while for the worker, to be "worth" just so and so much an hour, is to be "hungry." An experential revolt against the confining forms of a mechanical civilization. What makes this possible is the immense contrast between the possibilities for a better life sustained by modern technology and the perpetuation of competition, poverty, and war by a class system that cannot realize that potential without itself going under. The tension between the two dimensions has been recorded in art for millennia, but now it is no longer a question of abstract possibilities and idle hopes for a distant future.
Marcuse wrote that Heidegger's work seemed to indicate a turning point in the history of philosophy: the point where bourgeois philosophy transcends itself from within and opens the way to a new 'concrete' science. Marcuse applied the "concrete science" to understanding the passivity of the working class in the revolutionary situation at the end of the war. What is more, the idea of authenticity suggested a way of completing Marxism with a new theory of revolutionary consciousness. Traditional Marxism had failed because it relied on the motivating force of economic self-interest when in fact revolutions are not made for simple economic reasons. Marcuse now had a far more powerful instrument for analyzing the "radical act" in which individuals "exist" through transforming their world. Marcuse's fundamental objection concerned Heidegger's basic concept of the world. Heidegger had attempted to uncover ultimate structures of the world as such, leaving the particulars of specific worlds to the side as sociological details. When in the later parts of "Being and Time" Heidegger did refer to these communities of meaning, carriers of tradition. Marcuse argued that in so doing, Heidegger obscured the divisions within communities. Indeed, from a Marxist standpoint, class divisions are ultimately more significant than nationality since modern capitalism destroys tradition and replaces it with a society based on self-interest. Authenticity in this situation becomes a matter of seizing the historical moment along with one's class in the affirmation of human possibilities against the deadening routines of the existing society.
For Hegel and Marx the future is a collective project that emerges from social tensions that themselves reflect different projects borne by different social groups. The progressive projects realize potentials in the present that reflect developing human capacities. This notion of potential became the basis for Marcuse's later theory of "two dimensions" of society, the dimension of everyday facts and the dimension of transcending possibilities that lead on to higher stages of historical and human development. With this reinterpretation of Hegel, Marcuse prepared his new concept of revolution adequate to the crisis of twentieth-century German society. Astonishingly, this interpretation of Hegel came close to anticipating aspects of Marx's own early unpublished writings. In 1932 a previously unknown text emerged from the archives. These "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts" revolutionized the image of Marx. Capitalism alienated workers from their essential nature as creatures capable of building a world through labor that "objectifies" their needs and powers. But this world does not belong to them. Instead it is appropriated by the capitalist and turned against its creators, perverting their whole existence into a debased struggle for survival. Marx attacks the destruction of the "human essence" in an economic system that reduces the worker to nothing but the abstract capacity for "labor-power" -- abstract because in the early factory system labor was stripped of all particular qualities of skill and creativity and was measured solely in quantitative units of time. In a number of passages Marx makes surprising claims that distinguish his concept of nature from that of the natural sciences and bring it closer to the phenomenological concept of experience. Marcuse did not have to stretch the point in treating Marx's affirmation of the unity of human being and nature as an intentional correlation of subject and object, a kind of being-in-the-world. What is more, like Husserl and Heidegger, Marx grants this experential unity a supreme ontological significance. But unlike these phenomenologists, Marx's version of being-in-the-world has a radical historical character. He argues that the objectification of human faculties through labor under socialism creates a humanized nature in which we can finally be at home.