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Division Of Labor

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Marx's View of the Division

of Labor

The Division of Labor is a subject which has fascinated social scientists for millennia. Before the advent of modern times, philosophers and theologians concerned themselves with the implications of the idea. Plato saw as the ultimate form of society a community in which social functions would be rigidly separated and maintained; society would be divided into definite functional groups: warriors, artisans, unskilled laborers, rulers. St. Paul, in his first letter to the church at Corinth, went so far as to describe the universal Church in terms of a body: there are hands, feet, eyes, and all are under the head, Christ. Anyone who intends to deal seriously with the study of society must grapple with the question of the division of labor. Karl Marx was no exception.

Marx was more than a mere economist. He was a social scientist in the full meaning of the phrase. The heart of his system was based on the idea of human production. Mankind, Marx asserted, is a totally autonomous species - being, and as such man is the sole creator of the world in which he finds himself. A man cannot be defined apart from his labor: "As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce."1 The very fact that man rationally organizes production is what distinguishes him from the animal kingdom, according to Marx. The concept of production was a kind of intellectual "Archimedean point" for Marx. Every sphere of human life must be interpreted in terms of this single idea: "Religion, family, state, law, science, art, etc., are only particular modes of production, and fall under its general law."2 Given this total reliance on the concept of human labor, it is quite understandable why the division of labor played such an important role in the overall Marxian framework.

Property vs. Labor

Marx had a vision of a perfect human society. In this sense, Martin Buber was absolutely correct in including a chapter on Marx in his Paths in Utopia. Marx believed in the existence of a society which preceded recorded human history. In this world, men experienced no sense of alienation because there was no alienated production. Somehow (and here Marx was never very clear) men fell into patterns of alienated production, and from this, private property arose.3 Men began to appropriate the products of other men's labor for their own purposes. In this way, the very products of a man's hands came to be used as a means of enslaving him to another. This theme, which Marx announced as early as 1844, is basic to all of Marx's later economic writings.

Under this system of alienated labor, Marx argued, man's very life forces are stolen from him. The source of man's immediate difficulty is, in this view, the division of labor. The division of labor was, for Marx, the very essence of all that is wrong with the world. It is contrary to man's real essence. The division of labor pits man against his fellow man; it creates class differences; it destroys the unity of the human race. Marx had an almost theological concern with the unity of mankind, and his hostility to the division of labor was therefore total (even totalitarian).

Class Warfare

Marx's analysis of the division of labor is remarkably similar to Rousseau's4. Both argued that the desire for private property led to the division of labor, and this in turn gave rise to the existence of separate social classes based on economic differences. The Marxist analysis of politics relies completely upon the validity of this assumption, Without economic classes, there would be no need for a State, since a State is, by definition, nothing more than an instrument of social control used by the members of one class to suppress the members of another.5 Thus, when the proletarian revolution comes, the proletarian class must use the State to destroy the remnants of bourgeois capitalism and the ideology of capitalism. The opposition must be stamped out; here is the meaning of the famous "ten steps" outlined in the Communist Manifesto. Once the opposition is totally eradicated, there will be no more need for a State, since only one class, the proletariat, will be in existence. "In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the development of all."6

Marx actually believed that in the communist society beyond the Revolution, the division of labor would be utterly destroyed. All specialization would disappear. This implies that for the purposes of economic production and rational

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