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Contradicting logic and history

The Utopian Vision of Karl Marx

Patrick Coby

THEPOLITICAL THOUGHT of Karl Marx, at its Marx, who also is sparing in his analysis of
core, is a twofold promise regarding the alienation’s source. Still Marx does ask,
future of mankind.’ This promise in turn is “Why alienation?” And scattered through-
a reflection of Marx’s own conclusions out his early writings (“On the Jewish
about human nature.* The term Marx Question,” The Economic and Philosophic
employs to designate human nature is Manuscripts of 1844, and The German
“species-being.’’ According to Marx Ideology) are the makings of an a n ~ w e r . ~
humanity evidences two species Marx’s response is not what might be
characteristics: the capacity for har- expected. He does not contend that
monious society with others and the private property is the source of aliena-
capacity for free, conscious, and universal tion. In a famous essay from the
labor; man is a social being, and he is a Manuscripts titled “Estranged Labour,”
laboring being. With respect to the first of Marx comes to a surprising conclusion:
these characteristics, Marx promises the that private property, rather than causing
establishment of a classless society; with alienation, is itself caused by it:
respect to the second, the opportunity for
creative, self-satisfying labor. Standing be- The relationship of the worker to
tween man and his destiny, however, is labour engenders the relation to it of
the stubborn fact of alienation. Historical the capitalist, or whatever one chooses
man is alienated from his fellows, and so to call the master of labour. Private pro-
his political life is riven by class division perty is thus the product, the result, the
and class struggle. He also is personally necessary consequence of alienated
alienated from the artist within; thus his labour, of the external relation of the
workaday life is a drudgery and enslave- worker to nature and to himself. [p.
ment. In order for man to realize his 79.14
potential and to lead a life befitting his Two paragraphs later he repeats the point:
true nature, he must find the means to rid “But on the analysis of this concept it
himself of the shackles of alienation. It is becomes clear that though private proper-
at this juncture, so to speak, that Marxism ty appears to be the source, the cause of
becomes scientific, investigating the alienated labour, it is really its conse-
economic forces that guarantee the future quence.” @. 79.) Marx does allow that at a
freedom of mankind. later stage of development the relation-
Too often commentators narrow their ship between private property and aliena-
attention to Marx’s critique of capitalism tion is reciprocal, with each aggravating
without first inquiring into the origins of the condition of the other. But this in no
alienation. In doing so, they partly follow way retracts the original asseveration that

22 Winter 1986
alienation antedates private property and distinguishable from primate beasts ex-
is its cause. What then causes alienation? cept by a hidden capacity to enlarge his
Before “Estranged Labour” breaks off in- horizons, a capacity which Rousseau calls
complete, Marx addresses himself to this perfectibility. According to Marx man is
question: “How, we now ask, does man not wholly defined by the physical needs
come to alienate, to estrange, his labour?” of his animal existence; man can give
In his terse and unsatisfying reply, Marx himself new needs and is therefore
traces alienation not to anything external boundless.
to man, as would be the case with private Marx speaks almost as if the mainte-
property, but to something internal and nance of life through labor and the
essential-to the laboring act itself. Even reproduction of life through generation
though labor partially defines man’s were inseparable activities. Hence includ-
nature and contributes substantially to his ed in the first historical act of need
happiness, it is also, Marx seems to say, satisfaction and new need discovery is the
the source of his alienation. sexual society of the family. Procreation
This paradoxical reply yields two rather and this minimal sociability are also needs
distinct interpretations. One follows a original to man. Furthermore, Marx
straight path mapped out with readily ap- allows as natural some extension of the
parent signposts of Marxist doctrine; the family association, perhaps to the tribe,
other is an unfamiliar byway which comes and so concludes that there are “four
up short of the intended goal and which aspects of the primary historical relation-
causes doubt as to whether the goal is at ships”: production, changing production,
all attainable. The first of these courses the family, and society. Concerning lan-
will be charted immediately, the second guage and consciousness, Marx regards
reserved until Part 11. these as derivative accomplishments
The early pages of The German developed over time as a result of man’s
Ideology contain Marx’s most extensive expanding social existence. They are
description of the “state of nature” and of neither original nor uniquely human, for
the origins of alienated labor.5 Marx’s Marx supposes that there pre-exists an
point of departure is the real, living in- animal consciousness of nature.
dividual whom he defines materialistically One consequence of man’s life in the
by production and by the means of pro- family is the division of labor, which Marx
duction. Human nature seems not to be a traces to division implicit in the sexual act.
permanent condition but rather to reflect Beyond sexual differentiation within the
the ways in which man through labor sus- family, there are the differences within
tains and reproduces his material life: the larger community arising from natural
“What they are, therefore, coincides with predispositions, from needs, and from ac-
their production, both with what they pro- cidents. In light of these early and
duce and with how they produce. The manifold sources of diremption, Marx con-
nature of individuals thus depends on the cludes that the division of labor is spon-
material conditions determining their pro- taneous and natural. Marx also says, quite
duction.”@. 150.) Physical need con- remarkably, that division of labor and
stitutes the predicament of all organic life. private property are “identical expres-
Man distinguishes himself from other life sions,” the former referring to an activity
forms not by consciousness as such, but by and the latter to its product. Both the ac-
the laboring activity undertaken to meet tivity and the product of the activity are
his needs, Marx calls this necessitated completely natural, argues Marx. Hence
labor the “first historical act,” to which he private property is not seen as some
quickly adds the discovery of new needs original sin precipitating man’s fall from
and their satisfaction through new modes an Eden of nonalienated nature.6
of production. Marx’s original man is very Marx’s account of the state of nature in
much like Rousseau’s, a savage barely The German Ideology suggests, then, that

Modern Age 23
the cause of alienation is physical need. analysis of the problem and its solution:
Man’s labor is alienated because it is ex-
ecuted under the press of necessity. This This “estrangement” . . . can, of course,
same conclusion is reached by Marx in his only be abolished given two practical
essay “On the Jewish Question.” Marx premises. For it to become an “in-
argues in this, his earliest piece, that the tolerable” power, i.e., a power against
private rights of civil society, the rights of which men make a revolution, it must
man, are but an expression of alienation, necessarily have rendered the great
which Marx here calls Judaism, mass of humanity “propertyless,” and
hucksterism, egoism. At the center of this produced, at the .same time, the con-
malaise of selfish individualism is need: tradiction of an existing world of
“Practical need, egoism,” asserts Marx, “is wealth and culture, both of which con-
the principle of civil society.” @. 50.) The ditions presuppose a great increase in
individual human being, it would appear, productive power, a high degree of its
is egoistic and alienated from others development. And, on the other hand,
because of the practical needs of survival this development of productive forces
which his body imposes on him. Also, . . . is an absolutely necessary practical
labor is alienating because it is performed premise because without it want is
in response to these needs; and alienation merely made general, and with destitu-
engenders private property because tion the struggle for necessities and all
private property is a useful protection the old filthy business would necessari-
against the competitive hostility of others. ly be reproduced; and furthermore,
The root cause, therefore, of alienation because only with this universal
and private property, and much later of development of productive forces is a
capitalism and exploitation, is the needy unioersal intercourse between men
human body.’ established, which produces in all na-
tions simultaneously the phenomenon
If need is the cause of alienation and the of the “propertyless” mass (universal
scarcity of goods the cause of competition, competition), makes each nation
then the remedy for these ills is an abun- dependent on the revolutions of the
dance of material wealth. This of course is
others, and finally has put world-
Marx’s understanding of the problem and
historical, empirically universal in-
the reason why he supports capitalism, for dividuals in place of local ones. [pp.
capitalism, despite its contradictions and
injustices, does produce wealth. Were
capitalism’s productivity not the crucial Concerning the cycle of oppression and
factor, Marx would be hard-pressed to ex- revolution, the operative line is, I‘...
plain why the revolution he promotes, the without [the development of productive
proletarian revolution, should be any dif- forces] want is merely made general, and
ferent from the numberless revolutions with destitution the struggle for necessities
that have come before. If all history is and all the old filthy business would
class struggle, why will it suddenly necessarily be reproduced.” The pro-
change? Why will the class of proletarians letarian revolution, predicated on
not merely continue the cycle of oppres- capitalist abundance now and on enhanc-
sion? Surely a presumption exists that an ed socialist productivity later, is the only
attribute of the human condition hitherto revolution that can offer relief from the
unvarying is not scheduled to change in cycle of class struggle, because it is the
one’s own lifetime. Marx’s response to this only revolution that addresses the causes
vexing objection is that something indeed of class division and alienation-it alone
has happened in his lifetime, namely, the therefore is a Marxist revolution.
Industrial Revolution under capitalist The classless society promised by Marx
modes of production. In The German follows naturally from the analysis above.
ldeology Marx supplies the following Need causes alienation, which in turn

24 Winter 1986
causes private property and class divi- The body individuates; it is completely
sions. Classlessness, therefore, is a direct one’s own. Mind (spirit, soul), by contrast,
consequence of an economy of abun- universalizes; it is a person’s chief access
dance: Once provided with material abun- to a community beyond himself. Unlike
dance, the individual is able to break the food, knowledge is meant to be s h a r e d 4
chains of physical necessity and enter into suffers no loss and is eminently com-
spiritual communion with his fellow municable. Now Marx is in the untenable
citizens, who seem to him as comrades, no position of trying to build a universal com-
longer as competitors. But how serious is munity on foundations that are entirely
this expectation? Common experience particular, that is, on the human body.
would seem to belie it, for there is no fixed Marx is a materialist; the body and its
amount called abundance which con- needs constitute for him the real, living in-
tinues to satisfy. What we regard today as dividual.* He proposes socialist modes of
necessities, our parents and grandparents production to care for the body and to
thought to be luxuries; and what we take ready it for life in a classless society. But
for luxuries, our children and grand- what Marx does not see is that
children will treat as necessities. Appetites materialism, by emphasizing the private
are insatiable. And once their satisfaction aspects of life, renders people less fit for
becomes the desideratum of public policy, cornrnuni~m.~ Both liberal and classical
they will never admit to enough, and rare- authors seem to know this. Tocqueville
ly will they let the individual go. There are cautions that a society dedicated to
exceptions, of course-those people who physical well-being increases the aliena-
given a sufficiency can set material tion, or the individualism, of its citizens.
gratification aside and direct their lives to And Plato, in the Republic, prepares peo-
nobler pursuits; but they are a few, a ple for communism by taking from them
natural aristocracy, so to speak. Certainly private delights and material comforts:
it is unrealistic to suppose, as does Marx, from the warriors home and family, from
that a whole population can live amidst the artisans the opportunity for wealth.
plenty without acquisition, possession, and Total devotion to the common good is a
consumption becoming the center of their heavy exaction. Plato thinks it can be paid
existence. No society can be so productive only by a disciplined and virtuous people.
that the competition for goods will cease, Marx, however, would seemingly replace
either because resources are limited, a virtue with satiation. He breaks ranks with
fact which strangely has entered Western his early socialist predecessors by basing
consciousness only in the last dozen years, human community on abundance rather
or because expectations forever rise. Scar- than on austerity. But here he errs;
city will persist-whether real or imag- material abundance aggravates our
ined; and with scarcity will come alienation, it does not heal it.
divisiveness, alienation, and the perpetua- At this point the classless society would
tion of class society. appear dubious because need is a perma-
Marx fails to realize, perhaps because he nent feature of the human condition and
is a materialist, that the consumption of because efforts to alleviate it serve mainly
goods is an essentially private activity. to heighten our concern for privacy. But
The food, clothing, and shelter which one surely need is not the only cause of
person possesses and puts to use cannot alienation. People compete not merely
be easily shared by another. Consider that for scarce possessions but also, to name
those things belonging to the body are the but one example, for the affection of
most private of all. Humanity’s sense of others. Perhaps it is no accident that
shame is an instinct to keep from public communism’s most enduring successes
view the body and its functions. Indeed, are monasteries and convents, com-
the word “obscene” refers to dramatic ac- munities where the competition for lovers
tions that are properly kept “off stage.” is effectively prevented by the vow of

Modern Age 25
chastity. Communism, it would seem, is in- people have little choice but to be what
compatible with, or at least seriously they are, to think what they think, to do
troubled by, sexual and familial love. This what they do. Since behavior is largely
assertion is not so extravagant as it may at determined, there is no point in being
first appear. Sexual attraction creates ex- angry, in railing against the bourgeoisie.
clusive relationships which are, to say the Marx’s historical materialism represents,
least, discriminatory and which interfere in effect, a theoretical denial of
with one’s duties to the whole. Plato does spiritedness. And yet Marxism surely can-
his utmost to prevent the emergence of not be understood apart from its frequent
love, as does Lycurgus in his lawgiving for appeals to indignation and to a class of
Sparta. Thomas More looks casually on warrior revolutionaries.10Marxism is ag-
the forced separation of family members. grieved and outraged by social injustice; it
And at the time of Marx, communism has calls for heroic self-sacrifice in order to set
the reputation of being positively anti- the world right. But Marxist regimes are
family, a charge which Marx addresses loath to acknowledge such efforts or to
but does not refute in the Communist grant the individual the distinction owed
Manifesto. The political problem of love is to his deeds. Koestler’s Darkness at Noon
that it draws people away from the com- captures this contradiction well:
munity, calls into being a rival set of Rubashov, the old Bolshevik, confesses
obligations, and stimulates the desire to that his hero’s sense of honor isinconsist-
see one’s own prosper ahead of others. ent with the progressive, egalitarian spirit
Satisfying this obligation or desire requires of the revolution; that Cletkin, the un-
property-private property-the pursuit of couth “Neanderthal,” is a better revolu-
which disrupts the equality that total com- tionary than himself.” Marxism disputes,
munity demands. Communist regimes, but at the same time relies on, a persistent
more in theory than in practice, deal with fact of human behavior: that people, some
the problem of exclusive love by counte- of them at least, yearn for recognition and
nancing promiscuity and by separating define themselves by what they are that
mother from child. These devices and others are not. Of course the result of this
others less extreme are meant to suppress aspiration is that the comradeliness of the
the nuclear family, leaving the political classless society will forever elude human
unit as the only association to which pursuit.
allegiance might be given. A classless One element of the human condition
society built on these premises, however, that affects us equally is the experience of
is likely to strike someone either as objec- death. We all die, and we all die by
tionable, because too severe, or as im- ourselves. To the degree that our lives are
possible, if the power of love is presumed structured by the phenomenon of death,
to conquer all. we are reminded of our ineluctable sepa-
There is a second human emotion no rateness. Separateness is a condition that
less troubling to the arrival of the classless Marx strives mightily to deny. He asserts
society. This is the love of honor. Material that the true calling of the species is
abundance can do nothing to allay this human emancipation, which brings the
passion, because honor is by definition a diverse parts of society into perfect unity.
scarce commodity; it diminishes in value (“On the Jewish Question,” p. 46.)But the
the more others claim to possess it. Honor perfect unity of species-being is forcefully
does tie people together, for some must contradicted by our mortality. The fact is
give in order that others may receive; but that we do not die as species-being; conse-
mostly honor divides. Marx would seem to quently we cannot simply live as species-
allow no place to honor or to its associated being, and we delude ourselves if we try.
passions-anger and spiritedness- Death therefore, even more than the pas-
because human behavior is asserted to be sions of greed, love, and honor, is the
a function of the modes of production- enemy of the classless society, which tries

26 Winter 1986
_ -

to argue that as species-being we all are to read it out of his thought. What they fail
one. In the Manuscripts Marx gives pas- to realize is that it is only Marx the old
sing attention to this problem, but has only materialist, the economic determinist, the
a tautology to offer as a solution: “Death positive scientist, who is a democrat. Marx
seems to be a harsh victory of the species the humanistI3-and this may sound
over the definite individual and to con- shocking-Marx the humanist is a
tradict their unity. But the determinate in- totalitarian, at least incipiently so. For if
dividual is only a determinate species- consciousness is free, as humanism would .
being, and as such mortal.” (p. 86.)12 have it, and not simply a reflection of the
I would conclude this section by sug- material base, it becomes necessary to
gesting that Marx’s vision of the classless shape consciousness by an elite corps of
society is most plausible when seen to rest intellectuals. To the degree that the role of
on historical materialism, the thesis that the intellectual increases in significance,
human consciousnessis a reflection of the an extended and perhaps unending dic-
modes of production and that socialist tatorship of the Communist party is the
modes of production engender a result, postponing indefinitely the
homogeneous consciousness cleansed of establishment of a classless society. This is
the usual disagreements that divide peo- by and large the controversy between
ple into classes. James Madison dismissed Kautsky and Lenin: Kautsky, the orthodox
as impracticable the project of giving to Marxist, argues for proletarian revolution
everyone the same opinions, passions, and when and where material conditions
interests. Marx’s reply is to the effect that make socialism possible; Lenin, the doc-
opinions and passions belong to an trinal maverick, urges revolution in
ideological superstructure that echoes and agrarian Russia, claiming that propaganda
rationalizes an economic substructure of and agitation work by professional revolu-
interest. Once people share the same tionaries can compensate for the absence
material interests, they will hold the same of capitalist modes of production. But the
opinions and passions as a matter of work of professional revolutionaries in
course. Alienation will thus vanish from shaping by “education” a free and
the earth and make clear the way for a nondetermined consciousness is an ar-
classless society. duous, protracted business wholly incon-
To emphasize, however, the deter- sistent with d e m ~ c r a c y . ’Once
~ come to
ministic implications of Marx’s historical power, therefore, the revolutionary is
materialism is to provoke the charge of tempted to supplement propaganda and
reductionism, crude materialism, and agitation with the terrorism of a police
vulgar Marxism. For Marx was the pro- state. And if consciousness clings to its
genitor, so the argument goes, of a “new bourgeois beliefs, as Lenin expects,15then
materialism” that allowed for human ac- the police state will likely be total and per-
tivism, the free play of consciousness, and manent. Hence the totalitarian implica-
reciprocity between the sub- and tions of Marx’s thought arise from the
superstructures. While it is certainly true very humanism that ascribes freedom to
that Marx credits himself with developing human consciousness. Consciousness
a new materialism (“Theses on Feuer- must be spontaneously formed by the
bach”) and that scattered passages in the modes of production, as crude materialism
corpus proclaim the independence of con- maintains, if the revolution is to be quick
sciousness (e.g., Capital, pp. 344-45)-a and easy, if democratic government by
topic discussed below, nevertheless, the proletariat is to be feasible, and if the
historical materialism is mainly a deter- classless society is to be given its chance
ministic theory and as such is the central to emerge.
pillar of Marx’s doctrine. Present-day
friends of Marx, it would seem, are em-
barrassed by his “old” materialism and try THE SECOND SPECIES characteristic which

Modern Age 27
for Marx defines human nature is man’s shame many an architect in the con-
unique laboring capacity and his relation- struction of her cells. But what
ship to the natural environment as deter- distinguishes the worst architect from
mined thereby. The promise Marxism the best of bees is this, that the ar-
makes-the second component of its vi- chitect raises this structure in imagina-
sion-is the liberation of the individual ef- tion before he erects it in reality. At the
fected and expressed through creative, end of every labour-process, we get a
nonalienating labor. Marxism claims not result that already exists in the imagi-
only to serve the interests of the com- nation of the labourer at its commence-
munity but to accomplish as well the ment. He not only effects a change of
development of the individual. Marxism form in the material on which he
purports to be more individualistic than works, but he also realizes a purpose of
even liberalism. his own that gives the law to his modus
Marx states in the Manuscripts that truly operandi, and to which he must subor-
human labor is free, conscious, and dinate his will. Ipp. 344-45.1
universal. He contrasts it with animal
labor, which is unfree, because deter- Man is capable of artistic creation because
mined, unconscious, because directed by he not only is part of nature, like all living
instinct, and particular, because for the organisms, but also has the power to lift
animal alone: himself above his place, to survey the
whole, and to put it to his use. Nature pro-
Admittedly animals also produce. They vides man his sustenance but at the same
build themselves nests, dwellings, like time is an object of investigation
the bees, beavers, ants, etc. But an (philosophy and science), of manipulation
animal only produces what it im- (technology), and of representation (art
mediately needs for itself or its young. and literature). Most of man’s exertions
It produces one-sidedly, whilst man against his physical environment, when
produces universally. It produces only not prompted by necessity, are a type of
under the dominion of immediate art-labor that is free, conscious, and
physical need, whilst man produces universal.
even when he is free from physical Marxism promises with the coming of
need and only truly produces in communism to cancel the claims of
freedom therefrom. An animal pro- necessity and to allow man thereby to
duces only itself, whilst man labor creatively in full accordance with his
reproduces the whole of nature. Ip. 76.1 species-being. But this promise, like the
It was stated before that need alienated promise of a classless society, is beset with
man from his own species by forcing him difficulties and subject to serious objec-
to compete for scarce goods, by dividing tions.
his labor, and by inclining him to the In seeking the original cause of aliena-
private appropriation of property. Now it tion in Part I, it was suggested that two
appears that need also alienates man from answers are to be found in Marx. One was
the other hemisphere of his species-being, discussed on the occasion, it being need;
namely his capacity for free and creative the other was put off until later on grounds
labor. That Marx has in mind something that it represented for Marx a dead end.
akin to artistic production is clear from a The second source of alienation-and it
famous passage in Capital, the one cited should be apparent why it is a dead end-
above: is precisely free, conscious, and universal
labor. Marx makes the point in the follow-
We pre-suppose labour in a form that ing passage from the Manuscripts,
stamps it as exclusively human. A although seemingly without complete
spider conducts operations that resem- awareness of what he is saying: “An
ble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to animal’s product,” notes Marx, “belongs to

28 Winter 1986
its physical body, whilst man freely con- man free and conscious labor as a species
fronts his product.” @. 76.) In the case of characteristic and not find in it the roots of
animals, no particular distinction exists be- alienation? The answer has been for-
tween life, the reproduction of life, and mulated by Hannah Arendt: Marx con-
labor; they are all of a piece, a natural cy- fuses work and labor. On the one hand,
cle of generation. Animal life and animal Marx speaks of artistic creation-free and
labor offer no opportunity for alienation; conscious, peculiarly human-while, on
they evidence no capacity. Man, however, the other, of homogeneous labor-power,
stands apart from the natural cycle with that daily quantum of energy and exertion
the power to observe nature and to give it that humans have in common with
shape, to “work it up,” as Marx says. Free animals. Unfortunately, to both forms of
and conscious labor implies some distance endeavor Marx gives the name “labor”
between the laborer and his product, and and so loses sight of their differences.
with this distance the possibility of the Work, not labor, is free and conscious, its
product’s confronting its producer as an products designed to endure the destruc-
alien being leading a life all its own.16 The tive cycle of nature. Arendt defines work
argument could be put in Hegelian terms: as man’s revolt against nature. Labor by
God’s need to know requires that he objec- contrast is performed in response to recur-
tify himself in creation and that he come rent needs; it consumes its products
to view the objects of his creation as alien. almost in the act of producing them. Labor
Transformational criticism would then intends no revolt but is in tune with the
convert this formula thus: Man’s need to rhythm of nature. Viewed as a protest
create freely and consciously requires that against man’s mortality, work is inherent-
he be identifiably separate from the prod- ly alienating, whereas labor allows man
uct of his labor, that it be other than and an animal-like absorption into nature. As
alien to him. Because man is more than an Arendt explains:
animal, his products cannot belong “im-
mediately to [his] physical body,” as do The “blessing or the joy” of labor is the
human way to experience the sheer
nuts to the squirrel; they confront him.
bliss of being alive which we share with
Man therefore is inevitably alienated by
all living creatures, and it is even the
virtue of his humanity, his species-being,
only way men, too, can remain and
his free and conscious labor. Alienation,
swing contentedly in nature’s pre-
quite simply, is part of the human condi-
scribed cycle, toiling and resting, labor-
ing and consuming, with the same hap-
Marx, however, does not arrive at this
py and purposeless regularity with
conclusion even though his Hegelian
which day and night and life and death
frame of reference would allow him to say
follow each other.. . .
that through history and under com-
The blessing of life as a whole, in-
munism man’s species-being transcends its
herent in labor, can never be found in
alienating effects. Instead Marx attributes
work and should not be mistaken for
alienation to the state of dispossession: “In
the inevitably brief spell of relief and
tearing away from man the object of his
joy which follows accomplishment and
possession, therefore, estranged labour
attends achievement. The blessing of
tears from him his species life.” (Munu-
scripts, p. 76.) For Marx, despite what is labor is that effort and gratification
follow each other as closely as produc-
said above, a distinction is to be made be-
tween objectification and alienation. The ing and consuming the means of sub-
sistence, so that happiness is a con-
creation of an object alone does not
comitant of the process itself, just as
alienate unless the modes and relations of
pleasure is a concomitant of the func-
production effectively separate the pro- tioning of a healthy body.18
ducer from the product.17
How is it though that Marx can give to Labor may not always be so satisfying as

Modern Age 29
~~ ~
the quotation implies, for when humans expression over expertise-doing what
are conscious of labor as an imprisonment one wants when one wants.
in necessity, it too is alienating. But it still What now might be the consequence of
takes a conscious human being to ex- so much voluntarism? The obvious objec-
perience this alienation. Marx anticipates tion will not be stressed: that the industrial
that an economy of abundance under system responsible for abundance
communist modes of production will establishes its own rules and timetables
eliminate alienating labor while liberating which cannot be met by workers doing
consciousnessfor free creativity. This may their own things. Let it be assumed in-
be true, but artistic creation is also stead that the magic of future technology
alienating, and Marx does not show how will create an automated economy requir-
abundance can eliminate it. On the con- ing no significant human contribution, at
trary, in proportion as people become ar- least none that is coerced; and let this
tists, people will suffer the artist’s aliena- assumption stand as an elaboration on
tion. Marx’s statement that “society regulates
The liberated individual promised by the general production.” The primary
Marx is expected to labor (or to work) economy takes care of itself, so to speak,
since labor is an elemental feature of leaving the worker free for creative
man’s species-being. Moreover, social endeavor in a secondary economy. But
labor under communist institutions con- what effects will this freedom have? In the
tinues to be divided. But the division of first place, it seems unlikely that anything
labor is voluntary rather than the natural will be well done. Excellence depends on
division of labor that has typified proficiency which comes from discipline,
economic activity in the past. Nature in habit, and long training at one task. In
Marx’s thought is linked to necessity, and order to achieve excellence among his ar-
necessity is to be overcome historically tisans, Plato confines them to the practice
and replaced by freedom-hence the of a single art; similar arrangements are in
voluntary supersedes the natural. Only force for the warriors so that they too may
rarely does Marx look into the communist develop the reasoning appropriate to their
future; but when he does, as in The Cer- station. Marx, though, dispenses with
man Ideology, he sees free people work- these restrictions, called justice by Plato,
ing contentedly at tasks of their own and invites the worker to become a jack-
choosing: of-all-trades: “Each can become ac-
complished in any branch he wishes.”
, In a communist society, where nobody Perhaps it is possible to argue that flitting
has one exclusive sphere of activity but from job to job (“one thing today, another
each can become accomplished in any tomorrow”) is more intrinsically satisfying
branch he wishes, society regulates the than performing any one of them well. But
general production and thus makes it Marx conceals the choice from himself
possible for me to do one thing today and from others by supposing that all peo-
and another tomorrow, to hunt in the ple can do all things equally well. Can the
morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cat- conclusion be avoided that Marx here is
tle in the evening, criticize after dinner, flattering his audience, telling us that we
just as I have a mind, without ever are all potentially Renaissance men and
becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd women, that the only thing preventing our
or critic. ip. 160.1 emergence as Leonard0 da Vincis is a
system of divided labor that imposes upon
It is safe to say that Marx’s worker is an us “a particular, exclusive sphere of activi-
amateur for whom the freedom of his ty . . . from which [we] cannot escape”? Is
work is more important than its skillful ex- the sad fact not rather that each of us
ecution. The emphasis on voluntary divi- possesses limited talents with limited
sion of labor is decidedly on self- range and that outstanding accomplish-

30 Winter 1986
ment in any one requires native ability is surprising because Marx makes such a
supplemented by a lifetime of concen- point of disparaging the idyllic utopianism
trated effort. It may be harsh to say so, but of his fellow socialists. Marx is a pro-
Marx’s portrait of nonalienated labor gressive, a man of science whose own
looks more like the hobbies people pick up perfect society is founded on the machines
in retirement. of industry. And yet when it comes to
Voluntary division of labor has also this visualizing the laboring life of this society,
second difficulty, that self-expression, like Marx takes us back to feudalism and much
consumption, is predominantly private. beyond. Is this because it is impossible to
Idiosyncratic creativity is hardly compati- picture the liberated individual in an in-
ble with the all-encompassing community dustrial setting? Is this because machines
that Marx envisions. And of course in are inherently alienating no matter what
practice the socialist-communist regimes the modes of production? Even if Marx is
are staunch adversaries of anything granted a second economy where the divi-
smacking of art for art’s sake. The free sion of labor is voluntary, it seems that this
spirit who lives in his own world of labor, in order to be nonalienating, must
creative pursuit is not the stuff out of have little or no contact with the modern
which comrades are made. He is too technology that undergirds it.
private, too much for himself. Moreover, To sum up, Marx’s vision depicts a
artistic creation in any of its forms, classless society inhabited by liberated in-
whether a handbag or a cathedral, is more dividuals whose labor is creatively satisfy-
rewarding if others attest to its excellence. ing and free of alienation. But the classless
People need to hear from their fellows society would seem to be impossible; and
that what they do, they do well. But this the liberated individual, if not impossible,
only takes us back to the earlier problem is arguably undesirable. Worst of all,
of honor. though, Marx promises to combine into
It will be instructive to look again at one personality the rarefied individuality
Marx’s description of voluntary division of of the artist, the free spirit, with the
labor: “to hunt in the morning, fish in the regimented self-forgetfulness of the citizen
afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, and comrade. The word “comrade” in
criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, Marxist terminology connotes an equality
without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, tending to sameness. Comrades dress in
shepherd, or critic.” Marx presents here plain, drab army fatigues, their leaders
an array of activities all of which are per- especially, in order to symbolize their
formed, or can be performed, in isolation. shared hope in a classless society. These
None of these constitutes social labor, that same comrades, however, are expected to
great collective effort that Marx so explore the full reach of their individual
regularly celebrates. Hunters, fishermen, potential and to emerge as proud ex-
shepherds, and critics tend all to be off by amples of humanity’s species-being. This
themselves, far removed from intercourse quite frankly is a contradiction that of-
with other men. The demands of com- fends both logic and history. The simple
munity thus do not weigh heavily upon conclusion is that the goals of Marxism
them. In addition, these activities are can never be achieved and ought not
mostly agrarian, even arcadian. Now this seriously to be sought.

~ ModernAge 31
‘This article is a revised and condensed version of quisitiveness, which he defines as a compulsive,
a paper presented at the 1984 American Political Hegelianlike desire to amass wealth. Philosophy and
Science Association convention; the original title Myth in Karl Marx (Cambridge, England, 1965), pp.
was “A Liberal Reflection on the Promises of Marx.” 136-49. Tucker’s analysis would have the alienated
2To speak of human nature in connection with Marx capitalist come first (;.e., insatiable greed) and the
is a delicate matter, as it would be with any evolu- alienated wage-laborer come second ( ; . e . ,
tionist. Erich Fromm adopts a teleological view, dehumanizing necessity). But according to Marx the
which I think is generally correct: From the begin- relationship is the exact reverse: the alienated
ning man possesses a fixed potential which he laborer creates the capitalist. In speaking of the
develops through history. As potential, human alienation of the worker in the Manuscripts, Marx
nature is a constant; as actualized form, it varies says, “He begets the dominion of the one who does
from one era to the next. Marx‘s Concept of Man not produce over production and over the product.”
(New York, 1961), p. 26. 3The intermittent discussion (pp. 78-79; also p. 73.) 8This is not to say that Marx
of alienation in Marx’s writings has led some to con- reduces man to the physical. Consciousness is impor-
clude that Marx dropped the concept in the tant to Marx, but it is derivative; and alienation,
“mature” period of his life. While not subscribing to although in part a psychological state, depends for
the “two-Marx thesis,” I do maintain that Marx fails its remedy on material conditions. %ee Bertrand de
to state precisely and repeatedly the causes of Jouvenel, The Ethics of Redistribution (Cambridge,
alienation and its solutions. The analysis presented Eng., 1952), pp. 11-12. ‘Osee Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr.,
here, therefore, means to be faithful to Marx but also The Spirit of Liberalism (Cambridge, Mass., 1978), p.
to provide clarity where it is missing. 4All quotations 24. “Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon (New York,
from Marx are taken from Robert C. Tucker, ed., The 1969), pp. 149, 186. IZOnCommunist China’s attempt
Marx-Engels Reader (New York, 1978). slt might be to deal with the reality of death, see Robert Jay Lif-
objected that Marx’s depiction of the state of nature ton, Revolutionary Immortality: Ma0 Tse-tung and
in The German Ideology was superseded by his the Chinese Cultural Revolution (New York, 1968).
survey of anthropological research late in his life and Death is a problem for Marx, but so too is birth, ;.e,
which provided the basis for Engels’ The Origin of the question of ultimate origins and of whether man
the Family, Private Property, and the State (New is responsible for his own being. Eric Voegelin
York, 1942). Engels writes that earliest man lived observes that Marx’s response to this question in the
under a matriarchal form of communism. But even if Manuscripts (p. 92) is to forbid its being asked. Such
communism were the true state of nature, Engels hostility to philosophical inquiry leads Voegelin to
makes it clear that the transition from communal wonder if Marx was not an “intellectual swindler.”
property under group marriage to private property Science, Politics, and Gnosticism (Chicago, 1968), pp.
under monogamous marriage was natural, neces- 23-28. IJThe debate over Marx’s humanism, which
sary, and inevitable. (pp. 34, 47.) And he quotes began in Europe in the 1940s and in America in the
Marx on the subject, saying that the transition from 1950s and 1960s, focused on whether a young, im-
mother-right to father-right was “the most natural.” mature, and humanistic Marx could be distinguished
(p. 50.) 6While division of labor and private property from an older, more mature, and scientific Marx.
are fully natural institutions, with their beginnings in The debate has largely been resolved in the
original human needs, Marx states that the division negative-Marx’s humanism extends the full span of
of labor is incidental to society until mental labor is his scholarly life. With this point now established,
separated from material labor. Serious and lasting new advocates of Marx’s humanism argue that con-
distinctions between ruler and ruled depend on the sciousness enjoys considerable independence from
emergence of a class (e.g.,priests) whose mental pro- the material base. It is this meaning of humanism
ductions (e.g.,religion, law, philosophy) are used to that is referred to above. As an example see Melvin
legitimate the oppressive rule of the few over the Rader, Marx’s Interpretation of History (New York,
many. Division of labor is the seed of contradiction 1979), pp.3-55. 14RobertC. Tucker, ed., The Lenin
and conflict; it must germinate before the harmful Anthology (New York, 1975). pp. 15, 25, 27, 68,
fruit of class rule can be produced. Rousseau says 76-77, 87-88, 106. W i d . , pp. 29-30. I6Erich Fromm,
something similar about perfectibility: that a certain Marx’s Concept ofMan, pp. 45-46. I7ShlomoAvineri,
level of society has to be achieved before humans The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx (Cam-
can develop their capacity for amour propre. bridge, Eng., 1968), pp. 96-105. IsHannah Arendt,
7Robert Tucker considers this account of the origin The Human Condition (Chicago, 1958), pp. 106-8.
of alienation but then sets it aside in favor of ac-