If you are reading this it means you’re human (probably) and have most likely at some point had a job you hated. I worked as a mover for a summer. I hated it (although it did improve my strength and I had my best soccer season taking the scoring title). But I still hated the job. So why did I do it? Money. I was working as a bar tender and making decent money and my dad was a moving sales consultant so he got me a day job to make more money because what else is a 19 year old supposed to do? We have all had a job we hated and that’s ok.
What if the job you hate is not just a temporary job you do to pay for college but one you live your life in? Do you ask yourself what the point of working is if you make money from it but it drains your essence like Bill drains Sookie? Do you live for 5:00pm and weekends? We all have to work at something but why is this? It must have something to do with the greater human experience and cannot just be reduced down to an economic necessity. Can it?
Let’s see what one of the great minds has to say on the subject of work. I’m not a communist but nor was Karl Marx for that matter. His theories were taken by other people and turned into whatever those people wanted to turn them into. That’s what we humans do. We take ideas and make them our own to the detriment or benefit of others. So whether you’re an ardent capitalist, socialist, libertarian, unitarian, read what Marx has to say about work and see if your job is bringing you life.
Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 focuses on the plight of the labourer and his estrangement from his labour that robs him of his being as a human. He outlines how the worker becomes estranged from his work when he no longer is the recipient of the what he produces. Labour therefore, becomes objectified and man becomes disillusioned and enslaved (p. 227). Marx claims that man is enslaved because he is seen only as a commodity (p. 227) and his human essence finds value based solely on what he produces. Before his estrangement, man could rely on nature to provide, however, his estrangement has made him a slave towards his labour’s object. He is no longer a man but an animal since, like an animal, he produces only enough to sustain himself. Marx claims that man finds his identity in conscious life activity that allows him to be free to labour and take pride in what he produces (p.231). Man’s estrangement from labour leads to the emergence of private property which is the enemy of the worker since he no longer produces for himself but for others.
This worker essentially becomes a serf (or slave p.228) as the product of his labour benefits someone else. In a state of serfdom, only his quality as a worker permits him to maintain some sense of identity. However, he only maintains an identity so he can continue to labour (p231). Therefore, he relies on his skills to labour so that he can earn enough to live but in reality he is not living, but merely surviving. This state of serfdom occurs under capitalism (p. 226) and in this system, man’s labour provides wealth for someone else while the labourer continues to work and barely earn enough to survive. The purpose of labour becomes the creation of more wealth instead of achieving its true purpose which is a greater fulfillment of human nature. The labourer then continues to work but does not have enough money to even buy the products he produces and the gap between the rich and poor begins to widen. (p. 228-229)
The alienation of the labourer from what he produces leads to his alienation from his fellow humans as well. For Marx, man’s authentic existence is social activity and social satisfaction and he sees true human nature in common life (p. 237). Society has to be humanly organized to allow a real form of common life to exist and this existence comes from a material base. Under the capitalist system, common life is reduced to an impersonal relationship between property owners. Man only labours so he can exist and only exists with others because of the need to exchange property making relationships subordinate to things and in turn, inauthentic.