Human Activity Against Labour - ICG

"The point is not to free labour, but to abolish it."

- Karl Marx -

Submitted by redtwister on December 15, 2005

The word "labour" is the bourgeois word for "human activity"

Language, like any sphere of bourgeois society, is determined by capital. Language is fundamentally the language of the dominant class and therefore is fundamentally bourgeois. It can be described as the supremacy of bourgeois ideology, pervading all means of communication. Bourgeois language is a verbal exchange developed by way of symbols that best allow the perpetuation of class domination. So, the dominating mode of communication can, to a large extend, impose its own limits upon us. Since it is now out of the question to recreate a language based on a new understanding of human relations, we are therefore perpetually compelled to unmask the treachery of words, and to re-define them in the same way that we are compelled to re-define concepts.

The word "labour" is the perfect, total example of the falsification of the human consciousness. Whereas man always defined, expressed, realized himself through his vital activity (what is life if not activity?), whereas man's realization can be achieved only through the materialization of his vital activity (creation of objects, ideas,...), the commodity system has confined this activity to its "labour" form. Capital has universalized this form and, as wage labour, it dominates the planet. Hence today, while labour has become the only way of survival for the vast majority, the only way for the proletariat to exist, the "labour" form becomes man's central vital activity, the universal activity around which everything evolves. As labour has become man's essential activity, the bourgeoisie teaches us that man's very essence is labour.

That is why the word "labour" (1) -which actually designates one particular form of human activity- now sounds like a perfect synonym for "activity", since for most people labour has really become the totality of their activity. Thus, "acting" means "working", while "being active" stands for "being hard-working", that is very efficient. The cynicism and hypocrisy of the bourgeois language is at its highest in phrases like "making money work", which suggest an hermaphroditic wealth that begets itself as if it were not the sweat and blood of those from whom surplus-value is extracted, the only source of enrichment for the capitalists that "make money work".

So when talking of "labour", it should be clear that using this term determines a category, a well-defined form of production of human activity, intrinsically linked to the commodity system; labour must be understood as the production of human activity, as an activity alien to man, to the manifestation of his life, and to the consciousness he has of his life; it is man confined to his situation of worker.

"Labour is the act of alienation of human activity" (Marx - Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844)

Labour is nothing but the expression of human activity in alienation, the expression of the manifestation of life as the externalization of life (2). The alien character of labour appears in different ways, first through the object produced: in fact, this does not belong to the worker. Whereas the result of human production should appear as the greatest manifestation of the individual, as the affirmation of man, as a mean of recognition by others of man's own human character, labour alienates man from his product, which confronts and stands opposed to him. The worker is deprived of the object that he produces. Compelled to sell his labour-power, he puts his life into the object and his life no longer belongs to him. The externalization of labour consists in the necessity for the proletarian to sell his labour-power in order to produce a commodity totally alien to himself. The worker can get no satisfaction from the result of his work. Even if the object produced had an immediate utility for him, he might not enjoy it; he is dispossessed of its realization which is subjected to the laws of commodity production. The absurdity of this state of things reveals itself in all its cruelty when workers doing piece-work at 35°C (95°F.) without air conditioning or ventilation are told that the factory for which they work also manufactures air conditioners marketed with the following slogan: "Use this air conditioner and dog-days will be over!"

But the proletarian has not only become alien to the object of his activity, he has also become alien to his activity itself. Labour is indeed external to worker, and yet, since it is the only activity that provides him his means of subsistence in the capitalist system, he is forced to submit to it. Thus labour is par excellence unfree activity, it can only be forced and imposed.

"The alien character of labour emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical of other compulsion exists, labour is shunned like the plague."

(Marx - Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844)

So when he works, the worker does not affirm his own essence, but rather negates it. In the same way that he puts his life into the object and gets deprived of it, so he surrenders his existence to the activity of production of this object.

"If then the product of labour is alienation, production itself must be active alienation, the alienation of activity, the activity of alienation. In the estrangement of the object of labour is merely summarized the estrangement of labour itself."

(Marx - Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844)

Labour, the act of production in the capitalist system, thus transforms the worker's activity into passivity, his strength into powerlessness; eight hours a day of absurd activity directed against human essence and senses; self-alienation as the above-mentioned alienation of the object.

Loss of himself, loss of the object, and now loss of fellow men. Alienated labour makes man alien to the species (3). It alienates individual life from the species-life. The difference between man and animal lies in the fact that the latter identifies directly with its vital activity, "it is this activity". But man makes his vital activity itself an object of his will and consciousness. He has a conscious vital activity." (Marx - Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts oof 1844). As man's vital activity becomes alienated labour in the commodity system, the relation is reversed: the worker is now forced to make of his conscious vital activity -a mere means of subsistence- a means of existence!! Whereas the conscious vital activity should be man's expression of the realization of an objective world in which he sees his own reflection -this production being his active species-life, and a relationship between humans- alienated labour turns man's life activity into a mere production of riches.

"The consciousness which man has of his species is thus transformed by estrangement in such a way that species (life) becomes for him a means."

(Marx - Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844)

Labour alienates man from himself, from his species-being and so from the other man confronting him.

"What applies to a man's relation to his work, to the product of his labour and to himself, also holds of a man's relation to the other man, and to the other man's labour and object of labour. In fact, the proposition that man's species-nature is estranged from him means that one man is estranged from the other, as each of them is from man's essential nature."

(Marx - Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844)

This consciousness of human species of fellow man is shattered by capital. The expressions of class solidarity help draw the sketch of man's species consciousness: the man understanding that his own interests fit in with those of the community, the human being seeking to satisfy his needs and desires through the enjoyment of the collective being.

The abolition of labour expresses itself through the political form of the emancipation of the proletariat

We have just seen that man is alienated by labour, that he no longer belongs to himself, he must therefore belong to someone else. If the activity is a torment for the worker, it must be a source of enjoyment to another. Through alienated labour, man not only produces a relation alien to his object and to his production; he also creates the domination of the non-producer over his object, over his productive activity and over himself.

There is no reason at all why activity should be confined, alienated, externalized in the "labour" form, -no reason but one: the interest of the dominant class. The profit that the bourgeoisie gets from its domination keeps it from seeing further than its own egoistic interests. The social class that will set humanity free from alienated labour can only be the one that suffers the most from it. The universal emancipation of man depends on the emancipation of the proletariat, for in its relation to production, this class encompasses the whole boundage of humanity.

"A class with radical chains, a class in civil society that is not of the civil society, a class that is the dissolution of all classes, a sphere of society having a universal character because of its universal suffering and claiming no particular right because no particular wrong but unqualified wrong is perpetrated on it; a sphere that can claim no traditional title but only a human title; a sphere that does not stand partially opposed to the consequences, but totally opposed to the premises of the German political system; a sphere, finally, that cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all the other spheres of society, thereby emancipating them; a sphere, in short, that is the complete loss of humanity and can only redeem itself through the total redemption of humanity. This dissolution of society existing as a particular class is the proletariat."

(Marx - Critique of Hegel's philosophy of right)

This historical task of freeing humanity from labour, of resolving, once and for all, all antagonisms between man and nature, among men, between man's activity and his enjoyment, between the individual and the species therefore rests with the proletariat organized as a class, hence as a party.

Down with labour !!!

Now it can be more easier to realize why the unions' and the lefties' watch-words about "the right to work" and "job-security" are highly reactionary and utopian. The proletarians know that in the capital system working is the only way to provide for their needs, and that, in this sense, unemployment clearly means... death. Evidence of this is the thousands of human beings dying from starvation every day. The worker's demand for a job must therefore be understood as the demand for the possibility for him and his family to eat, to dress and to reproduce. Yet demanding work for all within the bourgeois system amounts to pretending that this is possible, thus denying the catastrophic nature of capitalism, its lack of control of the movement it begets. The communists know that demanding work for all is utopian, and they use the fact that capital has never been able to achieve full employment, even in its most prosperous periods, as evidence for this. The watch-word "the right to work" is reactionary, for it corresponds to an idealistic view of the ruling system; it denies the contradictory nature of capital which creates work only to create unemployment, that is, zero work; the nature of capitalist dictatorship is wealth begetting poverty. All "economists" and ideologists of labour try to tell us that working is necessary, because they mistake commodity production for social riches. Nothing is more hypocritical than trying to present labour as the only source of wealth. We define labour, as alienated, externalized activity, as the loss of humanity.

"Labour itself, not only in present conditions but universally insofar as its purpose is merely the increase of wealth, is harmful and deleterious."

(Marx - Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844)

Instead of the reactionary watch-word "an equal pay for an equal working-day", Marx was already impelling us to inscribe the revolutionary watch-word: "Abolition of wage labour". In the same way, instead of claims "work for all", we put forward the invariant watch-word from the communist program: "Down with labour!!"

Labour, leisure and communism

"In all revolutions up till now, the mode of activity always remained unscathed and it was only a question of a different distribution of this activity, a new distribution of labour to other persons, whilst the communist revolution is directed against the preceding mode of activity, does away with labour and abolishes the rule of all classes with the classes themselves."

(Marx - The German Ideology)

Communism destroys the mode of activity specific to the capitalist system: labour, the essence of private property. And while it abolishes labour, it abolishes the organization of leisure as an indispensable complement of alienated labour. By leisure, we mean the time given to the proletarian for the reproduction of his labour-power. Just as wages represent the maintenance of the worker and must be considered only as the necessary "greasing" for the pistons to function, so leisure has only one utility, as an outlet for the tensions accumulated during the labour-activity. Leisure has nothing to do with free time, since for the worker the point is to prepare his forces to be more efficient to allow ever more intensifying exploitation. Leisure corresponds to the necessity for the worker to be in fine fettle on Monday mornings. Because of his work, man no longer knows the true sense of his vital activity and during his "lost" hours he will only reproduce an activity "mirroring" alienated labour, so that this part of his time, of his so-called "free" activity, does not contradict the "working" part. Externalized inactivity can only correspond to externalized activity; externalized leisure to externalized labour. Capital matches working time against leisure time, it separates the two activities but also renders them complementary. Schooltime already prepares for this separation: "You should work hard and play hard, but never do both at the same time!" But human activity is a totality. In this sense, the communist society has nothing to do with any sort of leisure society, the idealization of the "positive" pole of bourgeois society. To the separation labour/leisure, communism opposes vital activity as enjoyment, enjoyment as activity.

"Activity and enjoyment are social in their content as well as in their origin; they are social activity and social enjoyment."

(Marx - Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844)

In primitive communism, the same term was used for "work" and "play". In the same way, communism abolishes oppositions between working time and leisure time, between production and apprenticeship, between living and experiencing. This description does not come from any idyllic anticipation, from any idealistic vision of the future, but it does result from the very movement of history and of the world. This movement is in no way subjected to chance; it is the fantastic development of the productive forces that makes communism a possibility, a necessity for today.

The abolition of labour as externalized human activity is an essential part of the communist programme and the proletariat will accomplish this human task through its affirmation as the dominant class so as to negate all classes. It is against the 40 hours working week, the torturing alarmclock, the distressing search for a job, the redundancies, the time spend packed like sardines in the underground, the hellish pace of work, private property, the exploitation of man by man,... that we will use our strength, our knowledge and our determination for the building of a labour-free society, a communist society affording the community the free disposal of its time for the realization of Human activity.

"Another source of demoralization among the workers is their being condemned to work. As voluntary, productive activity is the highest enjoyment known to us, as is compulsory toil the most cruel, degrading punishment. Nothing is more terrible than being constrained to do some one thing every day from morning until night against one's will. And the more a man the worker feels himself, the more hateful must his work be to him, because he feels the constrain, the aimlessness of it for himself."

(Engels - The condition of the working-class in England - 1854)


1. The word "labour" is latin origin, it comes from "tripalium" which means "instrument of torture".

2. For the definition of "externalization", see the article: "From man's alienation to human community".

3. The species should be understood as man understanding himself as man, the consciousness that the human individual has of the human species.


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