Outline of Marx's Discussion
Labour as a particular kind of human activity
Labour as useful labor - production of use-values
(independent of social form)
Humans (active) act on Nature (passive) and change both, Nature in humanity.
Humans workers unique in Nature as having conscious will, work as one kind of fulfillment of humans actively being in the world.
1. work - one kind of activity of living human
2. object of work productive
means of production
3. instruments of work consumption
1. worker works under control of capital, not for self.
2. the product is the property of the capitalist which is used against worker to dominate.
Labour as capitalist labor
Labour as abstract labor
- production of surplus value/surplus labor time
- distinct through its extension in time
A. formal subsumption of labor to capital
B. real subsumption of labor to capital (change in structure of labor process)
Capitalist concern is with labor time, not production as such; with exchange-value/value rather than with use-value
Value of product = C = value of means of production (labor time embodied)+ V = value of labor power (labor time necessary to produce MS)+
S = surplus value, surplus labor time
New labor time in the labor process makes up both V and S, problem of capital is to make sure labor time not limited to V.
All of these measures of labor time must be SNLT - socially necessary labor time, only that which is required on the average. This is necessary so we can ignore qualitative variations in labor and focus only on how long workers are forced to work.
So, production of commodities = unity of
1. labor process
2. value creation
capitalist production of commodities = unity:
1. labor process
2. valorization process (realizations of surplus value)
This chapter opens Part Three of Volume I of Capital. It is the first of a long series of chapters dealing with the sphere of production -that sphere in which people are put to work for capital producing commodities. This chapter resolves the problem set out in Part Two: the source of surplus value in the circuit of capital M-C-M'. At the same time this chapter renews several themes opened as early as chapter 1. It further develops the distinction between useful labor and abstract labor, between use-value and value. Moreover it delves into some of the most central and important issues raised by Marx's whole analysis: the meaning of work, what is central and determining in capitalism, the relation between human kind and nature, the social relations of work and domination. So far in Capital Marx has been using the term labor or work without much effort at critical definition. This chapter provides that definition.
1. The Labour Process
The chapter is divided into two parts, one on the labor process and one on the valorization process; this is basically a division between a generic discussion of work as human activity and a more specific one of work under capitalism. Much of what is laid out in this first part is an elaboration of the qualities of production discussed by Marx in the "introduction" to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. What Marx wants to address here are the characteristics of "production in general", independently "of the particular form it assumes under given social conditions."
He begins by juxtaposing humanity with nature.1 Humans he says, "confront" nature as one of its own forces and proceed to shape it and transform it into forms adapted to their own needs. This confrontation and transformation is stated to be a peculiarly human quality and Marx contrasts this with the activities of other animals, e.g., spiders or bees. What is the difference? In the case of other animals, he argues, activity is performed instinctually without thought or intent, whereas humans act with forethought and purpose, with a conscious will: "But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is that the architect builds the cell in his mind before he constructs it in wax." p. 284.
We have here two issues of considerable import: the relationship between humans and nature in general and the question of what distinguishes humans from other species - what is "human nature." With respect to the first, the relationship appears here as one of opposition, of antagonistic contradictions: Humans versus Nature, Humans conquer Nature. But there is no real opposition because Nature appears here without any independent consciousness or will, and thus as a collection of "things" on which humans act. This contrast seems to follow Hegel's in the Philosophy of Right chapters on "property" where "free mind" -an attribute of human beings- is distinguished from and counterpoised to "the external pure and simple, a thing, something not free, not personal, without rights." (paragraph 42) This is also similar to Jean-Paul Sartre's distinction between being in-itself and being for-itself (human being) in which only the latter has the power of self-transformation, of change, and the former is frozen into sameness, unless acted upon by some outside force. This distinction also exists in Marx's discussion of class in- and for-itself, where in the case of the working class we have working class in-itself when it exists only as factor of production for capital, and we have working class for-itself when it acts as subject in its own interest against capital.
Marx held this vision of humanity as active being, juxtaposed to the rest of Nature as passive existence, in one form or another, from a very early period and it was a position in which he was clearly influenced by Hegel. We find this analysis central to the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844: "The worker can create nothing without nature, without the sensuous external world. It is the material on which his labour is realized, in which it is active, from which and by means of which it produces." (Collected Works, Vol. 3, p. 273) Yet Marx presses beyond the theme of Humans against Nature even though they are part of it, one of its forces. In the Manuscripts and in Capital we find evidence of the way in which Marx saw humans transforming nature and giving it meaning only as a moment of humanity's own existence -a reversal of "humans in nature" to "nature in humanity." In the Manuscripts we find Marx defining the being of the human species as lying in its self-conscious treatment of itself "as a universal and therefore a free being." (p. 275, CW, 3) This free being appropriates all of nature and can subordinate it because it is unfree: "The universality of man appears in practice precisely in the universality which makes all nature his inorganic body - both inasmuch as nature is (1) his direct means of life, and (2) the material, the object, and the instrument of his life activity." (CW, 3, p. 276) Thus the oft repeated aim of some Eastern religions that humans should seek oneness with nature becomes nature's oneness with humankind. In Capital as we progress through the three volumes of the book we find an increasing appropriation of nature by humans within capitalism. In the chapters on machinery and modern industry, for example, humans appropriate the forces of nature (wind, water, steam, etc.) to drive machinery. In Vol. III on ground rent we find the problem that arises when the land has been so worked up that it becomes impossible to distinguish the productivity of the incorporated capital investment from the "natural" productivity of that soil -thus a conflict between capitalist farmer and landlord.
But as we will see this oneness of nature within humanity is no smooth, integrated process of development. It is one fraught with contradictions -contradictions directly related to the class contradiction. The subordination of nature under capitalism becomes not source of fulfillment to human beings' active creativity, but rather an element in the social control of the working class. Thus the rape of nature depicted in section 10 of chapter 15 on agriculture.
The second issue: what distinguishes humans from other species can now be seen to be a subset of the first issue. If humans are unique by their self-consciousness and will, then other animals must be simply parts of the "things" -without will and freedom- that constitute nature. "The animal," Marx says in the Manuscripts "is immediately one with its life activity. It does not distinguish itself from it. It is its life activity. Man [on the other hand] makes his life activity itself the object of his will and of his consciousness. He has conscious life activity." (CW, 3, p. 276) Compare to Hegel who says in the Encyclopaedia (paragraph 468): "the animal on the other hand, because it does not think is also incapable of possessing a will."
There are two comments I would make about this argument. First, it is obviously very anthropocentric. Hegel and Marx assume on the basis of what little they know about other species that those species do not think or have a will. Research since their time throws this into sharp question. Work with gorillas that have developed vocabularies of hundreds of words/symbols and who compose sentences with them, work with whales and porpoises whose brains are as complicated and as big as human brains, etc. suggests that both self-consciousness and will are present in other species -though perhaps neither the form nor the content of their consciousness resembles that of humanity. If this is true then some other differentiating characteristic will have to be found to indicate what is specifically human about humans. Perhaps what differentiates humanity is simply the greater or lesser amounts of, and particular combination of characteristics which we share with many other species. There is one further issue which Marx raises and to which I will return momentarily: humans' tool making and using activity.
The second comment is that the above issue is not determining for what follows. Even if other species are conscious and have wills, humans still can be so characterized and analysed. This chapter deals with the labor process, with a particular kind of interaction with the world. The central issue is the character of that interaction. That other animals might share this quality is secondary to its analysis within the human context.
In what follows it is important to remember that labor, or work, as Marx defines it, is only one kind of possible activity for humans. It is a process in which humans reach out, take possession of some aspect of nature and transform it, usually with tools. There are obviously other ways of being. Swimming in the sea, hiking a forest trail or climbing a mountain are both intensive interactions with nature but they involve no transformation per se. The same is true with contemplation -sitting on a hill and feeling the wind and watching clouds- or gymnastics, or running, etc. In all of these activities there is no tool building, no transformation, yet an intensive interaction with the environment. The labor process as Marx defines and analyses it is a very particular process.
What is this labor process? It has Marx says three elements: the workers, their tools, and the material on which they work. Here the human worker is the active element, the objects to be transformed and the tools for that transformation are passive - hence a particular interaction between willful humans and willless nature. Here Marx reinforces his suggestions of how humans make nature part of themselves: "nature becomes one of the organs of his activity, which he annexes to his own bodily organs" (Capital, p. 285). And again vis Ã vis other species: "The use and construction of instruments of labor although present in germ among certain species of animals, is characteristic of the specifically human labor process, and Franklin therefore defines man as 'a tool-making animal." (Capital, p. 286) In the Manuscripts Marx dealt with this distinction at greater length: an animal, he says, only produces what it needs, "It produces one-sidedly, whilst man produces universally. It produces only under the dominion of immediate physical need, whilst man produces even when he is free from physical need and only truly produces in freedom therefrom." (CW, 3, pp. 276-277).
Given the concept of humans acting upon passive nature with their will, labor appears as a kind of activity in which humans by transforming nature (say the raw material through the use of tools) impress their ideas (and thus themselves) upon it. [This is Hegel's second form of taking possession of a thing: by forming it -see paragraph 54-56 in the Philosophy of Right ] In Capital Marx describes this process: "In the labor process, therefore, man's activity, via the instruments of labor, effects an alteration in the object of labor which was intended from the outset . . . the product is a use-value . . . Labour has become bound up in its object: labor has been objectified, the object has been worked on. What on the side of the worker appeared in the form of unrest [Unruhe] now appears, on the side of the product, in the form of being [Sein], as a fixed immobile characteristic." (Capital, p. 287) In other words, in the way of being known by Marx as labor/work, humans translate their ideas into objects and externalize themselves in those objects. But this object, even though transformed by humans, is again but a thing, fixed and immobile. The robot is one advanced example of humans putting themselves into things -creating a machine in their own image that performs many of their own actions. But hence also the fear of creating a self-acting, thinking robot that could have a will of its own. Thus Asimov's programming rules for robots so that they never become a threat.
As nature transformed by humans, use-values appear even more closely to be an element of humankind's "inorganic body"; they embody the will of humans, their creation is a fulfillment of that will, they are thus an extension of their creators. Here humans do not dominate nature because it has no will, they merely shape it, and transform it in their own image. Here we have moved behind that fetishism of commodities that Marx discussed in part 4 of chapter 1: "The mysterious character of the commodity-form consists therefore simply in the fact that the commodity reflects the social characteristics of men's own labor as objective characteristics of the products of labor themselves, as the socio-natural properties of these things." (Capital, p. 164-5). What this chapter should remind us of, and show us how, is that commodities, as use-values are but the objectified results of human activity. They are not things-in-themselves, they are things-for-us that we have created. Furthermore, they have been created within certain social conditions and bear their stamp. But we will come to this anon.
So, from one point of view we have labor power in action as work, and on the other we have the passive things: tools and raw materials and intermediary goods which together constitute the means of production. To emphasize and sharpen this distinction between the active element: workers working, and the passive element: means of production, Marx uses a vivid metaphor: that of necromancy:
"Living labor must seize upon these things, awaken them from the dead, change them from merely possible into real and effective use-values. Bathed in the fire of labor, appropriated as part of its organism, and infused with vital energy..." (Capital. p. 289)
We can almost see Dr. Frankenstein hovering over his chunk of dead flesh infusing it with vital energy, bringing it to life. This image is certainly consistent with the view of the human/nature relationship as one of active/passive. Only here it becomes living/dead. This is a powerful metaphor and one to which Marx returns with many variations. As we will see he finds this process malevolent only when it falls under the control of capital -only then does Dr. Frankenstein's creation become a monster. At this stage, on the contrary, it is a life-giving process alone. Humans give life to unfree, passive things by incorporating them into the human world. Human life, at least from the view of humans (Marx) is the only true life. Obviously animals like sheep, cows and pigs are alive in the biological sense, but they become alive for humankind only in so far as they become the object of its labor. Hegel is explicit about this and Marx undoubtedly agrees: "What I do to the organic does not remain external to it but is assimilated by it. Examples are the tilling of the soil, the cultivation of plants, the taming and feeding of animals . . ." (Philosophy of Right, para. 56) If it is true that other species are endowed with consciousness and will, then truly humans have been involved in interspecial slavery and murder in their domination of other species, their genocides, and their consumption of animal flesh. The view that humans alone have a will, and impart life to other things is clearly one not limited to Marx and is a central feature and justification for much of our way of life. To believe, or to discover, otherwise would have the most profound ramifications. Ecologists and vegetarians push this kind of thinking: demanding that we find ways of living that do not kill off other species, either because they view the species as complementary to each other in an ecological balance or for simpler moral reasons: you don't murder other sentient beings.
Marx then discusses the labor process not only as production but as consumption -consumption of the means of production. Here again he is drawing on the previous discussion of this in the "introduction" to the Contribution (see Grundrisse, pp. 90-94) In Capital he limits himself to the distinction between labor as productive consumption of the means of production; and individual consumption which reproduces the individual. This is a distinction which becomes more complicated in capitalism where capital reaches beyond the factory to insure that all individual consumption is productive consumption within its own self-reproduction, e.g., that workers' consumption reproduces them as workers and not simply as human beings. In the general case Marx is discussing here where humans are making nature part of their world, part of themselves, it might even seem that productive consumption (i.e., labor process) is subordinated to and ultimately a part of individual consumption! Labor creates products but only as an extension of itself. From the point of view of the individual worker this is clearly less so than for human workers in general because of the division of labor. Workers ultimately produce things for each other, for the species as a whole in an interconnected pattern and not simply for themselves as individuals. But directly or indirectly, productive consumption is but a moment in the reproduction of both the individual and of the species, and thus part of its consumption of nature, individually and collectively.
It is in this sense that Marx speaks, in the Manuscripts of humans as "species-beings." "In creating a world of objects by his practical activity, in his work upon inorganic nature, man proves himself a conscious species-being, i.e., as a being that treats the species as its own essential being, or that treats itself as a species-being." (CW, 3, p. 276) In other words, humans act together as a species as they create things out of inorganic nature, as they transform the world in which they live for themselves. As they treat their own species as their own essential being -they act for themselves rather than for something else, or for someone else. Labor here is simply one form of "spontaneous, free activity"-that form which involves the transformation of nature. "The object of labor is, therefore, the objectification of man's species-life: for he duplicates himself . . . he sees himself in a world that he has created." (CW, 3, p. 277) It is free activity, free expression of life precisely because as we have seen humans act according to their will: being a conscious being means that humans' own lives are objects for them. "Only because of that is . . . activity free activity." (CW, 3, p. 276)
When at the end of part 1 of this chapter and in part 2 on the valorization process, Marx turns to the consideration of capitalist society. As he turns from the examination of labor as useful labor to the examination of labor as abstract labor, or labor under capital, we discover how the above relationships are distorted and warped. Marx shows how capital institutes the reversal of those relationships such that instead of labor and the products of labor appearing as one activity among many in the fulfillment of human life, labor becomes an imposed, all pervasive, activity and its products become the means of domination instead of the means of fulfillment.
2. The Valorization Process
When Marx turns from production in general, or the labor process in general to consideration of production and the labor process in capital he turns from (in the language of chapter 1) the analysis of useful labor to that of abstract labor -or, what is the same thing, useful labor within capital. He makes this turn at the end of part 1 where he notes that what capital purchases in the market (re: chap. 6) are the means of production (the objective factors of production ) and labor power (the subjective factor). At this point he makes an historical observation: namely that as capital appears on the historical scene and takes over control of production, it takes control of the labor process as it has existed: "The general character of the labour process is evidently not changed by the fact that the worker works for the capitalist instead of for himself; moreover, the particular methods and operations employed . . . are not immediately altered . . . The transformation of the mode of production itself which results from the subordination of labour to capital can only occur later on, and we shall therefore deal with it in a later chapter." (Capital, p. 291) This distinction Marx later develops (in chapters 14-15 and in the Appendix [Vintage/Penguin Ed.]) is the distinction between the "formal subsumption of labor to capital" and the "real subsumption of labor to capital." In the former the labor process is unmodified, in the later it is transformed within the dynamic of the class relations of production. This distinction is emphasized in Capital in the separation of Part 3 on Absolute Surplus Value where the focus is on "how long" workers work, and Part 4 on Relative Surplus Value where the focus is on the transformation of the labor process. Therefore if the labor process is at first untransformed then what changes when capital takes over?
Marx's first suggestion at the end of part 1 of this chapter is twofold: First, "the worker works under the control of the capitalist to whom his labor belongs". Second, the "product is the property of the capitalist". (Capital. pp. 291-2) What changes? The worker's activity of work is no longer free but is subordinated to and controlled by the capital, who by owning the labor-power-set-in-motion also owns the product. Thus the product is no longer the property of the worker but belongs to the capitalist. This part is entitled "The Valorization Process" because it considers the labor process from the point of view of value, both qualitatively and quantitatively, from the point of view of the goals and intentions of the capitalist - the realization of an increase in value or a surplus value, the prime in M - C - M'. Here we discover that labor as value is subordinated to surplus labor or surplus value, and to understand value we must restudy it from the capitalist optic of surplus value. From the point of view of the labor process we had actual labor and means of production. From the point of view of surplus value (work) what counts is the new living labor and the labor embodied in the means of production, or the embodied value and the new value. As Marx makes clear what interests the capitalist is that the new value, the new labor expended in the labor process be of sufficient quantity to cover the costs of the labor power and leave something left over as a surplus. As Marx develops in chapter 8, the value of the product embodies the value of the means of production (in the buying of which the capitalist has invested constant capital -constant because this value does not change) and value newly incorporated in the new product. This new value must contain sufficient value (labor time) to cover the costs of reproducing the workers' capacity to work or labor power (in the buying of which the capitalist has invested variable capital - variable because the amount of work the worker can do varies) and a surplus value over and above this. Symbolically, the value of the product =
C + V + S
where C = value (or socially necessary labor time) embodied in the means of production and V + S = newly produced value (labor time expended in this labor process) of which V = the amount necessary to reproduce the workers and S = surplus labor or surplus value. Since V + S or the total amount of time the workers may work is, and must be, greater than V the time necessary for the production of their means of subsistence, "Therefore the value of labour power, and the value which that labour-power valorizes in the labour process are two entirely different magnitudes," (Capital, p. 300) Since what the capitalist is concerned with here is surplus labor time, what is essential is the length of the labor process. This issue: the length of the working day is the central subject of chapters 7-10 and its determination will be seen to occur within the class struggle.
There is an important interaction here between qualitative and quantitative factors, central to the understanding of "capitalist" production. If the workers work only so long as is necessary to reproduce themselves (this may happen directly in agriculture if they are paid part of the crop, indirectly in manufacturing) then the capitalist obtains no surplus value, and fails qua capitalist. In order to retain control over labor the capitalist must extract surplus value -both to survive if not earning a wage through work, and to invest on a larger scale. The imposition of work must be quantitatively sufficient to result in surplus work or surplus value.
This is vital to his whole discussion -that the major qualitative determination of what is peculiar to capitalist control of the labor process is the amount of work imposed! What we have here is a central feature of capitalism: its tendency to continuously expand the amount of work it imposes, its tendency to expand investment (via reinvestment of surplus value), to expand its hold on human life, on the number of humans brought under its control. The creation of surplus value is the creation of surplus work -surplus over and above that needed to produce the workers as labor-power. The purpose of labor in the labor process in which the laborer controlled the process was the transformation of nature to meet workers' needs and to satisfy and fulfill their being through activity tout court. The purpose of labor under capital is simply more labor than the workers would perform for themselves -surplus labor. For the moment Marx does not question or analyse the reasons for this unending quest by capital for more labor. We can see the imposition of labor as the imposition of a certain kind of social control, but why does this expand? Why the quest for more and more control over more people, over more hours. This is not answered here. Marx simply notes that this is the case and goes on to analyse the implications of this for other aspects of the labor process and the role of humans within it.
A major result of this control by capital, besides forcing more work, is to transform the meaning of work for humans. Because the capitalist controls the labor process the workers work for the capitalist not for themselves. Because the product belongs to the capitalist and not to the worker it appears as something outside and indeed menacing. It is the capitalist who now brings living labor and dead labor together, the subjective element of the worker and the objectified labor of the means of production. It is the capitalist that orders the worker to infuse life into the dead. But now this necromancy has turned malevolent. The dead flesh endowed with life is "an animated monster". Why? Because it is owned by the capitalist and stands alongside the capitalist opposed to the worker. If the product is a machine then it is the capitalist machine which the capitalist will use to enslave the worker. If the product is a means of subsistence then the worker will only have access to it to the degree that he accepts the despotism of the capitalist over his life by working for him. The worker's labor is no longer simply one form of life activity in which there is human interaction with nature of a particular sort, it is now the means by which the worker is controlled and dominated. Where in the case of the free human, work would appear as one "free manifestation of life, hence as an enjoyment of life" (CW, 3, p. 228), now this particular kind of interaction with nature has become "an alienation of life." Whereas for the free human this kind of activity would be one way of affirming "the specific nature of my individuality", an exteriorization of myself in things, under capital this work process in which my own being and talents are embodied in a product is one in which the product is alien to me, owned by the capitalist and used against me. ". . .it is a forced activity and one imposed on me" only through "an external [capitalist] fortuitous need, not through an inner, essential one." (CW, 3, p. 228)
This theme of the "alienation" of work and of the products of work was elaborated by Marx in the 1840s and remains in his analysis even through Capital. It was particularly present and developed in the Manuscripts of 1844 (and in his "Comments on James Mill"). The "alienation" of work means that under capitalism with the capitalists in control of the work process, work is no longer the autonomous means of self-expression and fulfillment to workers but is rather an alien force imposed on them, dominating them. The "alienation" of the product of labor means that the product, rather than being a fulfilling objectification of the worker's personality becomes a weapon for controlling the worker.
Work as a form of life is "alienated" first of all because it is forced from the outside, imposed by capital: "His labor is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labor. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labor is shunned like the plague . . . it [labor] is not his own, but someone else's, that it does not belong to him, that in it he belongs, not to himself, but to another . . . . it is the loss of his self" (CW, 3, p. 274)
The Resentment of Work
There are two elements here: first that the labor is forced, second that the worker feels it as such and shuns it. That the first of these is true is the main point, whether the second is true is secondary. It may well be that a worker feels that work is pleasant or enjoyable even though the work is being done for capital -certainly much of capitalist schooling and ideology is designed to instill the "work ethic" of enjoying work, including work for capital. Therefore whether or not workers like (subjectively) their work is secondary to the objective fact that it is imposed on them. It may be that, as Marx says: "The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working . . ." (CW, 3, p. 274) But then the worker may also have decided, consciously or not, to "make the best of a bad situation" and learned to enjoy working. The issue, it seems to me, is secondary.
However secondary it may be, it should be recognized that dislike for work is indeed pervasive in capitalist society. We are surrounded with cultural manifestations of people's resentment of work: from bumper stickers which say "Work Sucks, But I Need the Bucks" or "I'm in No Hurry, I'm On My Way to Work" through desk and office signs announcing "Work May Not Hurt You, But Why Take The Chance" or "I Love My Job, It's The Work I Hate" or "Work Is A Four-letter Word" to popular music of all sorts. In the previous treatment of primitive accumulation we discussed Bob Dylan's protest song "Maggie's Farm" from the 1960s with the refrain "Ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more". There are many such from all decades. Another, from the Austin punk era of the early 1980s is just as frank:
I Won't Go Back To Work
They tell me everyone has to do it
I better straighten up, I better get to it
But I don't want no one gettin in my face
Or tellin me I better stay in my place
They say everyone has just got to make it
What my life deals out you just got to take it
But I won't take that as white and black
If you push me man, I'll push you back!
No, I won't go back
No, I won't go back
I won't go back to work!!!!
If I don't dress just right, you'll have to excuse it
And if you press the issue I just might lose it
And I ain't got room for your ideas to fill up my head
When you lecture me man I just see red!
No, I won't go back
No, I won't go back
I won't go back to work!!!!
(EP) Black Hole Records,
During the countercultural revolution of the 1960s, the term "alienation" came to be used quite broadly to refer to all feelings of estrangement in society. Marx's Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 coupled with Capital can provide a theoretical weapon to understand not only alienation in work but of the experience of alienation throughout life once we recognize how capitalism has succeeded in subordinating so much of life to imposed work . The following two songs from the 1960s express such feelings of alienations, the first by Simon and Garfunkel from the point of view of the alienated individual and the second by Paul McCartney et al as a commentary on the isolation of others.
The Sounds of Silence
Hello darkness my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because the vision is softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains within the Sounds of Silence
In restless dreams I walked alone
Down the streets of cobblestone
Beneath the halo of the 8th Street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
that split the night and touched the Sounds of Silence
And in the naked light I saw: 10,000 people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
No one dares disturb the Sounds of Silence
Fools said oh you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you
But my words like silent raindrops fell
Echo the wells of silence
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words it was forming
And the sign said the words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls, tenement halls
Disperse the Sounds of Silence.
Simon & Garfunkel, Sounds of Silence, 1965, in Collected Works,
Columbia, 1990, CD 45322
Elenor Rigby picks up
the rice in the church
where her wedding has been
lives in dream
waits at the window
wearing a face
that she keeps
in a jar by the door
Who is it for?
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong
writing the words of a sermon
that no one will hear
look at him working
darning his socks in the night
when there's nobody there
what does he care
died in the church
and was buried along with her name
Father McKenzie wiping
the dirt from his hands
as he walks from the grave
no one was saved
sung by Joan Baez on Joan, 1967
Vanguard (LP) VRS-9200
In the first of these songs, the singer wanders the streets alone amidst thousands of equally isolated individuals talking and talking but never connecting -precisely the experience of the alienation of worker from worker, of person from person when all are merely workers-for-capital instead of being involved with each other as a result of their own self-activity. In the second song, the evocation of "all the lonely people" is generalized in the chorus but focused on Elenor Rigby who dies alone and Father McKenzie who buries her alone. These songs gave voice to the individual experiences and feelings of alienation within mass urbanized society and resonated in the emotions of millions. They are not intellectual essays on alienation, like Marx's texts, they are poetic evocations of daily pain and their favorable reception (measured by record sales) demonstrated just how widespread that pain was (and is).
Aliens and Monsters
Irrespective of the feelings of workers, however, work is imposed and that the product of the labor process is used to control the worker -it becomes as the property of the capitalist "something alien, as a power independent of the producer . . . . Under these economic conditions [capital] this realization of labour appears as loss of realization for the workers; objectification as loss of the object and bondage to it; appropriation as estrangement, as alienation." ". . . the greater this product, the less is he himself . . . the life which he has conferred on the object confronts him as something hostile and alien." (CW, 3, p. 272) As property of the capitalist, as either means of production or means of subsistence, the product of labor becomes the means of forcing laborers to labor, it becomes capital. The alien in this horror movie is capital. The worker has imbued dead, objectified means of production with life, created something new, but then this product raised from the dead turns monster and dominates its creator. This is a complete reversal of the labor process described in the first part of chapter 7. There humans are god-like, mobilizing passive or dead things, and endowing them with life. Here capital, by using dead things (MP, MS) as moments of itself, mobilizes and dominates living labor. It subordinates work as one kind of life activity to itself, the worker "is lost to himself" and has the misfortune to be "a living capital." Here the worker appears as a zombie - the living dead, human life suspended and used by death. Instead of working to live, we have living to work -the ideal of the capitalist work ethic. Humans become as Marx says "nothing more than workers" (CW, 3, p. 283) Or again in the Grundrisse (p. 708): "the positing of an individual's entire time as labor time, and his degradation therefore to mere worker, subsumption under labor." Instead of work being one form of being for humans, all forms of human being are eliminated except for work through the use of the products of labor to dominate labor, to force it to work, to produce ever more surplus value. Thus, under capital, alienation takes four forms:
1. The alienation of workers from their labor: living labor becomes alien to humans, a means for controlling them rather than fulfilling them
2. The alienation of workers from their product: the products humans create become alien to them, used for dominating and controlling them.
3. The alienation of workers from their "species-being": therefore work, which was one means of human interaction, one way of fulfilling human specie's-being as a collectivity, becomes merely a means to insure individual existence. "In tearing away from [humans] the object of [their] production [the product] estranged labor tears away from [them their] species-life, [their] real objectivity as a member of the species." (CW, 3, p. 277)
4. The alienation of workers from each other: the stripping away of their self-realization within their species means the "estrangement of man from man . . . . What applies to a man's relation to his work, to the product of his work, and to himself, also holds of a man's relation to the other man . . ." (CW, 3, p. 277) Thus capital ruptures the interactions between people and forces them to exist and to act only for capital, they are pitted against one another, estranged from one another precisely in so far as they are defined only in terms of capital and not in terms of one another -thus the loneliness and separateness of life in capitalist society portrayed in the songs above.
Gone are the positive phenomena associated with the interaction of humans with each other in their work and in the sharing of their products. Earlier, Marx wrote of these interactions: "In your enjoyment or use of my product I would have the direct enjoyment both of being conscious of having satisfied a human need by my work, that is, of having objectified man's essential nature, and of having thus created an object corresponding to the need of another man's essential nature. I would have been for you the mediator between you and the species . . . in the individual expression of my life I would have directly created your expression of your life, and therefore in my individual activity I would have directly confirmed and realized my true nature, my human nature, my communal nature. Our products would be so many mirrors in which we saw reflected our essential nature." (CW, 3, p. 228) Thus capital is seen as undermining not only the individual human's self-realization through the transformation of nature, but also the mutual interactions of individuals each carrying on these activities communally.
In Capital all of this discussion is left out. Marx does not insert this long discussion of the Manuscripts into Capital which he wrote years later. This had led some interpreters to see a sharp rupture between the "young" Marx of the 1840s and the "mature" Marx of the 1860s.2 Yet, there are clearly important elements of this analysis which persist in Capital. The product produced by workers for capital does become a "monster" (Capital, p. 302) Later, in Chapter 10, we find this monster is pictured by Marx as a Vampire! "Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks." (Capital, p. 342) But dead labor is precisely the products produced by workers, products that have become alien objects, part of capital, and are used to dominate workers. The expression "sucking living labor" clearly means forcing humans to work, and the more they are forced to work the more products are produced, the more surplus value, the more capital thrives. Still further (Capital, p. 353) he speaks of capital's "were-wolf hunger for surplus labor", again the alien monster seeking ever to impose more work. And then in Chapter 11 we find in somewhat less picturesque language: "It is no longer the worker who employs the means of production, but the means of production which employ the worker. Instead of being consumed by him as material elements of his productive activity, they consume him as the ferment necessary to their own life-process, and the life-process consists solely in its own motion as self-valorizing value." (Capital, p. 425). Further, in the chapters on machinery and modern industry there is a whole discussion about how under capital the worker comes to serve the machine rather than visa versa. Clearly the core of the analysis of alienation is very much alive in Capital in so far as it concerns the way capital distorts humans' relationship with nature as one form of activity, humans become the tools of capital, of things, rather than being their creator as creating them as extensions of self. What is missing, it seems, is the way Marx in the early writings spoke freely of the "feelings" of workers. Then he could discourse freely about workers "enjoying" activity, or finding it "hateful", of "feeling at home" or of "feeling outside", etc. In short what is absent in Capital is any extended discussion of working class consciousness and its relationship to their situation. Marx is concerned here with the dynamics of capitalist domination or with working class struggle against it (e.g., chap. 10) but he no longer spends time exploring the relationship between what is going on and what workers think or feel about it. He examines their subjectivity in their actions rather than in their minds.
The Alienated Capitalist
Although Marx is unconcerned with capitalists as individuals, many social commentators, novelists, song writers and film makers have been. A recurring theme in their treatment of the fate of individuals who become capitalists has been that "success" does not breed happiness. "Success", of course, being defined in terms of moving up the capitalist hierarchy of power, success in moving into positions where you are of a manager and less of a worker being managed. The payoff for such movement is power and wealth, income and status. The image of the successful capitalist having substituted in contemporary society for older images of the royalty and nobility. Against such ideology which portrays the capitalist as the hero of capitalist society has been pitted the more critical view that while "success" is materially rewarding it's achievement is also generally been spiritually and socially exhausting. The cost of competing has been the isolation of the workaholic -which is not all that different from the isolation of the worker enslaved to the factory. In both cases life is reduced to work with all its alienation, especially the isolation from fulfilling relationships with others. Sometimes this theme has been developed as critical commentary, sometimes as a warning to those tempted by the obvious payoffs of "success" but blind to the costs. One such treatment in the 1960s was Simon and Garfunkel's "Richard Cory":
They say that Richard Cory
owns one half of this whole town
with elliptical connections
to spread his wealth around
born into society
a banker's only child
he had everything a man could want
power, grace and style
But I work in his factory
and I curse the life I'm livin
and I curse my poverty
and I wish that I could be
oh I wish that I could be
oh I wish that I could be
The papers print his picture
almost everywhere I go
Richard Cory at the opera
Richard Cory at the show
and the rumours of his parties
and the orgies on his yacht
Oh he surely must be happy
With everything he's got
He freely gave to charity
he had the common touch
and they were grateful for his patronage
and they thanked him very much
so my mind was filled with wonder
when the evening headlines read
Richard Cory went home last night
and put a bullet through his head
Simon & Garfunkel, Sounds of Silence, 1965
in Collected Works, 1990, Columbia CD 45322
Recommended Further Reading
As indicated in the commentary above, the key references to Marx's work on "alienation" are his "Comments on James Mill" and the section on "Estranged Labor" in "Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844", both of which are now available in the Karl Marx Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 3, New York: International Publishers, 1975, pp. 211-228, 270-282. Two contemporary Marxist treatments that interpret Marx and seek to expand upon his work are Ivan MézÃ¡ros, Marx's Theory of Alienation, London, 1970 and Bertell Ollman, Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971. There is today an enormous literature on alienation as a result of a virtual explosion of activity on the part of sociologists and psychologists in the wake of the cultural revolution of the 1960s and in response to widespread job dissatisfaction.
Concepts For Review
useful laborabstract laborcapital as vampire
nature in humanitylaborbeing in-itself
labor processalienationbeing for-itself
species-beingc + v + s
formal subsumption of laborreal subsumption of labor
Questions For Review
(An * means that one possible answer to the question can be found at the end of this study guide.)
*1. Explain the difference between labor and the labor process and why it is important for Marx.
*2. Explain the connection between Chapter Seven and Chapter One, especially section two of Chapter One.
3. Discuss and critique Marx's comments on the relation between human beings and the rest of nature. What is particular about humans that distinguishes them from other animals for Marx and Hegel? In what sense are their views species-centric?
4. What are the three elements of the labor process and what are their relationships to each other? How do these relationships change under capitalism?
5. Compare Marx's concepts of class in-itself and for-itself with Sartre's concepts of being in-itself and being for-itself.
6. Compare Marx's concepts of class in-itself and for-itself with Sartre's concepts of being in-itself and being for-itself.
7. What does Marx mean by species-being? How does it relate to labor and production and how to the relations among human beings?
*8. Under what circumstances can labor be one form of "spontaneous, free activity" with the potential of being fulfilling for human beings.
9. What is valorization? Explain it in terms of its usual meaning and in terms of Marx's analysis.
10. Distinguish between the formal and the real subsumption of labor to capital and explain the relationship between this distinction and primitive accumulation.
11. Why is it that in order to understand value in Marx, we must also understand surplus value?
12. Explain the meaning of C = c + v + s. How central is s in understanding valorization and wherein lies the struggle between the workers and capital in this equation?
*13. What does Marx mean by "alienation"? Describe all the various aspects of work and life that fall under this rubric for Marx.
*14. Explain the following comment in social/class terms: "Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks."
15. From your reading of Chapter Seven, how much truth do you feel there is in the assertion that in this chapter Marx focuses more on the processes of alienation than he does on how workers feel about it.
1 In Capital Marx, like most writers in his day, used the term "Man" to designate the human species. I will use non-sexist alternatives such as humanity.
2 This was the position of French Communist Party philosopher Louis Althusser and his co-author Etienne Balibar in their book Reading Capital in which they argued the existence of an "epistemological break" between the "young" Marx of the Manuscripts and the "mature" Marx of Capital.