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At the same time he recognises this relationship has gone wrong in the capitalist epoch. For Marx, each of the different forms of human society that have existed historically and across the globe has its own specific way of organising human labour to meet subsistence needs through work on and with nature, and its own specific way of distributing the results of that labour. For example, hunter-gatherer societies have usually been egalitarian and sustainable.

However feudal or slave-owning societies involved deeply unequal and exploitative social relations, but lacked the limitlessly expansive and destructive dynamic of industrial capitalism. Each form of society has its own ecology. The ecological problems we face are those of capitalism — not human behaviour as such — and we need to understand how capitalism interacts with nature if we are to address them.

Marx himself made an important start on this. In the s he wrote about soil degradation , a big concern at the time. His work showed how the division of town and country led to loss of soil fertility while at the same time imposing a great burden of pollution and disease in the urban centres. There are places where he appears to celebrate the huge advances in productivity and control over the forces of nature achieved by capitalism, seeing socialism as necessary just to share the benefits of this to everyone.


Recent scholarship has challenged this interpretation of Marx, but historically it has been very influential. It is arguable that the disastrous consequences of the Stalinist drive for rapid industrialisation in Russia came from that interpretation.


Alienation in Karl Marx’s early writing | Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

But there is another point. Surplus value. Transformation problem.

Wage labour. Capitalist mode of production. Dictatorship of the proletariat. World Revolution. Primitive accumulation of capital. Proletarian revolution. Marxist philosophy.

Historical materialism. Dialectical materialism. Marxist autonomism. Marxist humanism. Structural Marxism. Western Marxism. Important Marxists. Vladimir Lenin. Leon Trotsky. Georg Lukacs. Praxis School. This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia view authors. What is more, Marx himself provides an account of the type of mechanism which might explain how the act of associating with others on purely instrumental grounds spontaneously loses its purely instrumental character to become valuable in itself in the following passage describing the associational form of life enjoyed by workers in France that he had observed: When communist workmen gather together [ sich vereinen ], their immediate aim is instruction, propaganda, etc.

The problem is capitalism – not humanity

But at the same time they acquire a new need — the need for society — and what appears as a means has become an end. This practical development can be most strikingly observed when one sees French socialist workers united [ vereinigt ]. Smoking, eating and drinking, etc. Company, association [ Verein ], conversation, which in its turn has society as its goal, is enough for them. Marx and Engels — : 40, —; Marx : ; translation modified. This passage begins with individuals who initially associate with each other as a matter of practical necessity, in that they cannot otherwise realize certain ends that they have, not only as individuals but also as members of the same class, ends which in this particular case concern the common need to defend and further the interests that they share as workers.

An Introduction to the Work of Marx

This need to associate with others cannot, therefore, be identified with these interests. See Marx and Engels — : 40, ; Marx : As argued above, the act of working can likewise come to possess an intrinsic value in virtue of how individuals, in association with others, engage in a common project that enables them to experience certain human goods that would not have been available to them independently of this act of association and engagement in a common project. This would overcome the alienation from other human beings that for Marx characterizes the capitalist mode of production.

Moreover, since the workers exercise collective control over the productive forces and the process of production, they would no longer be at the mercy of impersonal economic and social forces and subject to the constraints that these forces generate in relation to their own wills. The workers would also no longer have to be regarded as alienated from the product of labour, for they would now have some control over the conditions under which objects are produced. To sum up the point that we have reached, there is now a situation in which the act of working may come to possess an intrinsic value at the same time as it occurs in the realm of necessity, in that individuals come to experience certain human goods that this act makes possible and that are therefore internal to the practice of engaging with others in a common project, rather than being goods to which the act of working serves merely as the means to an end, as when something is produced only with the intention to consume it.

In this way, individuals enjoy expressive freedom through being able to realize their human essence, whereas this possibility does not exist in the realm of necessity as found in capitalist society. Thus, satisfaction can be found in the act of producing not only for oneself but also for others. This is not, however, because the act of producing in association with others serves some external goal which is realized by means of this act. If, however, overcoming alienation is held to require that the object produced is itself in some way expressive of its creator in a personal sense through its possession of certain distinctive properties, what I have proposed is admittedly not sufficient to overcome alienation.

Yet it extremely difficult to see how this requirement could be met in the case of the production of mass goods that is typical of a modern industrial economy, and when in communist society, even if what is produced is dictated by society's needs, there would surely be many cases in which individuals would not, and could not, be involved in each and every stage of the production of one and the same object. For it is only when human beings are freed from the constraints generated by the necessity of producing objects aimed at satisfying the material needs of society that they can dedicate themselves to genuinely personal projects.

These projects do not, however, have to be purely arbitrary or solitary ones, and they may, therefore, generate their own constraints that concern the conditions of realizing these projects. The explanation of the compatibility of freedom and constraint in the realm of necessity that I have offered rests on what I consider to be a defensible account of freedom, and it does not require making controversial claims about the fulfilling nature of certain types of work. Nor does it rest on any strong essentialist assumptions.

The major difference is that Marx applies this concept of alienation and what it would mean to overcome alienation to a particular domain of life, namely the sphere of material production, while arguing that overcoming alienation in this sphere requires establishing conditions appropriate to the human being's essentially social nature. As regards the first difference, given the necessity of this sphere, it is surely valid to ask how alienation understood in the relevant sense can be overcome, or at least minimized, within the sphere of material production, whereas the refusal of any purely formal account of the concept of alienation to engage with this issue can be regarded as a weakness rather than a strength.

As regards the second difference, although the claim that human beings are essentially social beings can be challenged, to assume a more individualist standpoint invites an objection that Marx himself had already articulated, namely, that such a standpoint is the historical product of a certain mode of production and its relations of production i. This is because asserting such claims invites the response that what we have is simply a lack of imagination or the unwillingness to consider alternatives to the capitalist mode of production.

Indeed, such claims might be viewed as little more than ideological attempts to close down debate about how to organize society with a view to maximizing the extent and the quality of the freedom that human beings enjoy.

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In other words, although control and regulation of the production process on a social scale is summarily dismissed, the capitalist himself controls and regulates the labour process in his own factories and thereby, through his own actions, demonstrates that control and regulation of the production process is not, in fact, a practical impossibility. This performative contradiction, Marx suggests, is ultimately to be explained in terms of the private and class interests of the capitalist.

Karl Marx's Theory of Alienated Labour

This explanation of the compatibility of freedom and necessity nevertheless invites the following question. If the material needs of individuals and society could be met without people having to work, or by working far less than before, and individuals had the opportunity to give adequate expression to their distinctively human capacities and their social nature in other ways, would any reason for individuals to work exist?

In relation to this question, I shall now explore some implications of Marx's analogy between how production will be organized in communist society and how an orchestra functions. On the one hand, let us assume that there is an orchestra made up of professional musicians, each and every one of which finds what they do fulfilling independently of the fact that it is how they earn a living, because engaging in the act of making music in association with others allows them to enjoy expressive freedom by exercising and developing certain distinctively human capacities in a way that accords with their social nature.

Here, it is not difficult to see how extrinsic and intrinsic forms of motivation perfectly coincide and how these musicians would, therefore, be motivated to engage in the same activity independently of the fact that it is a means of satisfying their material needs. On the other hand, let us assume the existence of a group of amateur musicians, for each of whom making music together before an audience is one of the greatest joys in life for essentially the same reasons as in the previous case.

The Compatibility of Freedom and Necessity in Marx's Idea of Communist Society

These musicians are, however, less talented than the members of the professional orchestra, whose musical talent and accomplishments entitle them to a share of the social product. Given that the members of the orchestra will not be engaged in an activity that belongs to the realm of necessity, the question of whether they should not also play their part in this realm arises. Arguably, however, this benefit would have certain costs, such as in this case lower musical standards, and it might therefore be argued that the benefits gained would be offset by the disadvantages.