[OPE-L] Marx's own conception of labour

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Tue Nov 21 2006 - 08:42:03 EST

In fairness to Marx, it occurs to me that the famous passage about the
architect and the bees (Marx himself actually does not mention any
architect, he mentions a "Baumeister", literally Master-builder) in chapter
7 of Das Kapital ought to be read again in its context.

Marx writes firstly that through acting on the external world and changing
it, humans at the same time change their own species-nature, which is not
typical of primates, insects etc. But this human activity obviously does
*not necessarily* include only labour.

He then says:

"We are not now dealing with the initial animal-like, instinctive forms of
labour. The condition, in which the worker as seller of his own labour-power
appears on the commodity market, is dislodged (entrückt) from the primeval
background of the condition in which human labour has not yet shed its
original instinctive form.  We presuppose labour in a form in which is
exclusive to humans." (my own corrected translation from the German; the
existing translations don't really get it correct).

Clearly he is NOT denying that other organisms perform work, nor that the
original forms of human labour are animal-like and instinctive. What he is
saying only is that specifically human labour or humanised labour is
*different* from and more advanced than those less-developed forms of
labour, which are to a greater extent, or exclusively instinctive, rather
than consciously purposive and self-aware.

The ingredients of specifically human labour, Marx says, are (1) mental
anticipation, (2) exercise of the will, (3) a self-awareness of one's own
purpose, (4) a regulation, control or self-discipline ("Gesetz" or internal
necessity), (5) an independent motivational structure that can vary, and
influence, the work effort, and (6) sustained conscious attention to the
object of the work. To this he then adds a some other aspects, such as
tool-making ("Franklin therefore defines man as a tool-making animal") and
the transformation of the natural world according to a design.

But Marx is NOT proposing any substantive theory of anthropogenesis or of
human nature here, nor is he defining the anthropological specificity of
humans in terms of human labour. This point has often been overlooked in the
literature. All Marx is saying is that the market-trade in labour has a
definite general presupposition, namely labour in a human form, without
which it could not occur. Precisely for that reason, in the analysis "The
labour process must therefore in the first instance be considered
independently of any specific social form it takes" (my translation).

A theory of the role of labour in anthropogenesis was a later development by
Friedrich Engels. Even so, Engels talks specifically of the "role of labour"
and does not anywhere imply that labour is the *only* ingredient which
distinguishes humans from non-humans. That idea was a specifically *Marxist*
vulgarisation of the argument.


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