DOWN WITH LABOUR! - Communism #13

"Political economy conceals the estrangement in the nature of labour by ignoring the direct relationship between the worker (labour) and production. It is true that labour produces marvels for the rich, but it produces privation for the worker. It produces palaces, but hovels for the worker. It produces beauty, but deformity for the worker. It replaces labour by machines, but it casts some of the workers back into barbarous forms of labour and turns others into machines. It produces intelligence, but it produces idiocy and cretinism for the worker.

The direct relationship of labour to its products is the relationship of the worker to the objects of his production. The relationship of the rich man to the objects of production and to production itself is only a consequence of this first relationship, and confirms it. Later, we shall consider this second aspect. Therefore, when we ask what is the essential relationship of labour, we are asking about the relationship of the worker to production.

Up to now, we have considered the estrangement, the alienation of the worker, only from one aspect -- i.e., his relationship to the products of his labour. But estrangement manifests itself not only in the result, but also in the act of production, within the activity of production itself. How could the product of the worker’s activity confront him as something alien if it were not for the fact that in the act of production he was estranging himself from himself? After all, the product is simply the resume of the activity, of the production. So if the product of labour is alienation, production itself must be active alienation, the alienation of activity, the activity of alienation. The estrangement of the object of labour merely summarizes the estrangement, the alienation in the activity of labour itself.

What, then, constitutes the alienation of labour?

Firstly, the fact that labour is external to the worker -- i.e., does not belong to his essential being; that he, therefore, does not confirm himself in his work, but denies himself, feels miserable and not happy, does not develop free mental and physical energy, but mortifies his flesh and ruins his mind. Hence, the worker feels himself only when he is not working; when he is working, he does not feel himself. He is at home when he is not working, and not at home when he is working. His labour is, therefore, not voluntary but forced, it is forced labour. It is, therefore, not the satisfaction of a need but a mere means to satisfy needs outside itself. Its alien character is clearly demonstrated by the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, it is shunned like the plague. External labour, labour in which man alienates himself, is a labour of self-sacrifice, of mortification. Finally, the external character of labour for the worker is demonstrated by the fact that it belongs not to him but to another, and that in it he belongs not to himself but to another. Just as in religion the spontaneous activity of the human imagination, the human brain, and the human heart, detaches itself from the individual and reappears as the alien activity of a god or of a devil, so the activity of the worker is not his own spontaneous activity. It belongs to another, it is a loss of his self.

The result is that man (the worker) feels that he is acting freely only in his animal functions -- eating, drinking, and procreating, or at most in his dwelling and adornment, etc.-- and in his human functions he no longer feels to be anything but an animal. What is animal becomes human and what is human becomes animal.

It is true that eating, drinking, and procreating, etc., are also genuine human functions. However, when abstracted from other aspects of human activity, and turned into final and exclusive ends, they are animal.

We have considered the act of estrangement of practical human activity, of labour, from two aspects: 1°) the relationship of the worker to the product of labour as an alien object that has power over him. The relationship is, at the same time, the relationship to the sensuous external world, to natural objects, as an alien world confronting him, in hostile opposition. 2°) The relationship of labour to the act of production within labour. This relationship is the relationship of the worker to his own activity as something which is alien and does not belong to him, activity as passivity [Leiden], power as impotence, procreation as emasculation, the worker’s own physical and mental energy, his personal life -- for what is life but activity? -- as an activity directed against himself, which is independent of him and does not belong to him. Here we have self-estrangement, as compared with the estrangement of the object [Sache] mentioned above."

Extract from the chapter on "Estranged Labour", from the 1844 Manuscripts by Karl Marx.

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"Another source of the workers’ immorality is that they are the damned of work. If free productive activity is the greatest pleasure which we know, forced labour is the cruellest and most degrading of tortures. Nothing is more terrible than to have to perform, from morning until evening, something which is repugnant to you. And the more a worker has human feelings, the more he must loathe his work, because he feels the constraint it implies and the uselessness that this work represents for him."

F. Engels, The Situation of the Working Class in England. "‘Worry’ is nothing other than the feeling of oppression and anguish which, in the bourgeoisie, necessarily accompanies work, this vile activity of needy bread-winning. ‘Worry’ blooms in its purest form in the brave German bourgeois: for him it is chronic and "always equal to itself", miserable, and scornful, whereas the misery of the proletarian always takes on the sharpest, violent form, forcing him to engage in a fight to the death, making him revolutionary and producing, as a result, not ‘worry’ but passion. Thus if communism wants to abolish the ‘worry’ of the bourgeois as much as the misery of the proletarian, it goes without saying that he cannot do it without abolishing the cause of both one and the other: work."

Karl Marx, The German Ideology.
"We have indeed grown puny and degenerate. Embalmed beef, potatoes, doctored wine, and Prussian Schnapps, judiciously combined with compulsory labour, have weakened our bodies and narrowed our minds. And the times when man tightens his belt and the machine enlarges its output are the very times when the economists preach Malthusian theory to us, the religion of abstinence and the dogma of work. Really, it would be better to pluck out such tongues and throw them to the dogs."

Paul Lafargue, The Right to be Lazy, 1848. "If the working class were to arise in its terrible strength, tearing from its heart the vice which dominates it and degrades its nature, not to demand the Rights of Man, which are but the rights of capitalist exploitation, not to demand the Right to Work, which is but the right to misery, but to forge a brazen law forbidding any man to work more than three hours a day, the earth, the old earth, trembling with joy would feel a new universe leaping within her..."

Paul Lafargue, The Right to be Lazy, 1848.

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Dec 15 2005 19:55



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