Division of Labor Essay

Division of Labor Essay

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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 fr...


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...of Revolution (Nutley, New Jersey: Craig Press, 1968), p. 112.

7 German Ideology, pp. 44-45.

8 Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), in Marx-Engels Selected Works, II, p. 24. This is one of the few places in which Marx presented some picture of the post-Revolutionary world.

9 Ibid.

10 Ludwig Yon Mises, Socialism (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, [1922] 1951), p. 164.

11 Maurice Cornforth, Marxism and the Linguistic Philosophy (New York: International Publishers, 1965), p. 327.

12 German Ideology, p. 84.

13 Murray N. Rothbard, "Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty," Left and Right, 1 (1965), p. 8.

14 "On the Jewish Question," (1843-44), in T. B. Bottomore, Karl Marx: Early Writings (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), pp. 34-40.

15 G. D. H. Cole, The Meaning of Marxism (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, [1948] 1964), p. 249.

16 Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed (1936), quoted by F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (University of Chicago Press, 1944), p. 119.

17 Mises, Socialism, pp. 60-62.

Reprinted with permission from The Freeman, a publication of The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., January 1969, Vol. 19, No. 1.

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