Unity of Labour

Further, the division of labour implies the contradiction between the interest of the separate individual or the individual family and the communal interest of all individuals who have intercourse with one another. And indeed, this communal interest does not exist merely in the imagination, as the “general interest,” but first of all in reality, as the mutual interdependence of the individuals among whom the labour is divided. And finally, the division of labour offers us the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.

— Karl Marx, The German Ideology. 1845

3 thoughts on “Unity of Labour”

  1. Feeding the whole population requires so many deer, pheasants, fish and cattle; this in turn requires a certain amount of work. Unfortunately, men, months and knowledge are not freely interchangeable so a society of any ideology is always constrained to do certain things in certain ways by certain people or else die.

    In fact, the only job on the list that is freely available at any time with seemingly no education is criticising after dinner, a job Mr Marx evidently had much liking for.

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  2. I enjoyed your comment whitemice, so much so, then the next time I have a job opening for someone to criticise after dinner, you’ll be first on my list.

    The Marx quote is quite clearly utopian, I think even he would have admitted that, it could only possibly be achieved in a society with enormous labour surplus, such as might be achieved through widespread automation and other technological advances. The sad truth is that were such a large surplus to exist at the moment in any of our societies, the benefit of it would be concentrated in the hands of a vanishingly small group, and there would still be people living in poverty. Surely that’s something that we can agree is a bad thing?

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  3. I would agree that any situation (including poverty) with no reasonable means of escape is a bad thing.

    We do live in a society with an enormous labour surplus and have done for some time and this has taken us far on the road to Marx ideal. However, for most people the ideal is impossible, not because of a small elite group but because they persist in using the word need frivolously.

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