Sunday, March 30, 2014

Marx's critique of labor

In regards to our most recent reading of The Marx-Engels Reader, I found the critiques being made of Capitalism interesting. Instead of labor being viewed as a positive way to support a society, Marx views labor in a Capitalist society as an alienating agent. The way he describes this alienation almost seems like labor dehumanizes the laborer. By being stripped of the product we are making, our labor itself and our species being, the laborer becomes similar to a slave to the person receiving the labor. We have talked in class before about what it means to be human and the rights that come with it. I am interested in whether or not laborers would be considered human in the Marxist view of labor in a Capitalist society. What rights do we lose? Does the payment of money justify what we give up as laborers?


  1. Your questions are really interesting. To consider your first question--if laborers are considered humans in Marxist view of Capitalism--I looked for his definition of human. On page 150, he says man is distinguished from animals by consciousness(/religion/etc.) and by self-producing subsistence. To first consider consciousness, I'm not sure myself. If someone is brainwashed by a system, are they still considered conscious? Overall, I don't think Marx argues that Capitalism takes away consciousness on all fronts of life, so that distinction of humanity probably still remains. As for self-production of sustenance, I think Marx would argue our alienation from producing our own sustenance--because the laborer simply becomes one more step of the process for capitalists to produce capital--makes this trait less apparent. Could going to stores for our all goods be compared to scavenging for food (in a sense) because there is a separation from how the food is made?

  2. I'm really interested in the idea of labor as an alienating agent that Angelica talks about and that we discussed in class. I do think there is a truth to it. People who work for other people don't do the work for their direct benefit. They do it for another person's benefit, and that person's benefit (usually greater than theirs) in turn benefits them. For example, if you work in a department store like Macy's, you help a person find the right dress size or you record a sale on a cash register, but the money that the customer spends doesn't go to you; it goes to whoever holds shares in Macy's. What you get is a set wage, one that doesn't really have anything to do with your performance: you can help one hundred customers in a day or one customer in a day and are still paid the same amount. And the money that you earn doesn't even go to you; it goes towards your rent, or your child, or the same pair of shoes that you sold to a customer so you could make money to buy them. The cycle of labor and money in a capitalist society is really indirect and alienating once you dissect it.

  3. I wouldn't say that anyone is really considered inhuman in Marx's view (at least so far). I believe that Marx would say that in Capitalism the laborer becomes something like a crude version of what its species would lead it to generally become in regards to fate or teleological purpose (I think this might have something to do with avarice Marx talks about, and consequently, individualism). It seems like the capitalist laborer is more of a misguided human as it is labor that results in all of the alienation and not a natural, inherent property that the laborer actually has as a human.


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