Liberty Matters

What would Non-alienated Labor look like in Marx’s View?


We have to go to the end of some notes Marx wrote in early 1844 while in Paris about a French translation of James Mill's Elements of Political Economy (1821, French translation 1823) to find out what he thought non-alienated labor might look like.[23] Or as he put it, "Gesetzt, wir hätten als Menschen produziert" ("Let us suppose that we had carried out production as human beings.") The full note is worth reading in my view, but I will quote only a paragraph (German version is in the endnote):
Each of us would have in two ways affirmed himself and the other person. 1) In my production I would have objectified my individuality, its specific character, and therefore enjoyed not only an individual manifestation of my life during the activity, but also when looking at the object I would have the individual pleasure of knowing my personality to be objective, visible to the senses and hence a power beyond all doubt. 2) In your enjoyment or use of my product I would have the direct enjoyment both of being conscious of having satisfied a human need by my work, that is, of having objectified man's essential nature, and of having thus created an object corresponding to the need of another man's essential nature. 3) I would have been for you the mediator between you and the species, and therefore would become recognised and felt by you yourself as a completion of your own essential nature and as a necessary part of yourself, and consequently would know myself to be confirmed both in your thought and your love. 4) In the individual expression of my life I would have directly created your expression of your life, and therefore in my individual activity I would have directly confirmed and realised my true nature, my human nature, my communal nature.[24]
Two things strike me about this passage: firstly, Marx is talking about physical goods, not services, and I wonder if the same feeling of "Entäusserung oder Entfremdung" (alienation or estrangement) applies to services as well. Secondly, his ideal seems to be very much like the mutually beneficial, voluntary exchanges that take place between individuals in a free market. He talks about what he produces as an expression of his individuality; both parties enjoy see the other party using and enjoying what has been exchanged; both parties are like "mediators" to a greater social good of some kind; and so both confirm their own individual nature as well as that of society. Something very similar could have been (and in fact was) written by Bastiat.
What seems to be causing a problem for Marx is the existence of both private property and the division of labor, which appear to corrupt the nature of exchange between individuals. Leaving aside for the moment the issue of private property, presumably Marx believes that some degree of the division of labor is necessary. (A happy and non-alienated worker can't make all his own tools or raw materials from scratch.) The question seems to be how much division of labor is "good" and how much is "bad." What is the Goldilocks "just right" amount? He never answers clearly.
He also seems not to understand that there are trade-offs here, that the greater productivity under a division of labor is achieved by each worker specializing in some tasks, even if this means giving up the "joys" of making something (or most of something) all by oneself. Furthermore, the greater productivity of the division of labor means there are many, many more kinds of work available for people to choose from in the rapidly industrializing economies of Europe, and also many more places where one can undertake that labor.
Not least, of course, is that rising wages during the 19th century meant that ordinary workers for the first time could enjoy weekends off and time and money to spend on leisure. Perhaps they couldn't "hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner" (which could only exist in Marx's fantasy world of the future communist socieity), but in the not too distant future in the actual world in which they existed, workers could go to football matches on Saturdays or perhaps take a train trip to the seaside to enjoy the amusements on the piers.
[23.] James Mill, Élémens d'économie politique, par J. Mill; traduits de l'anglais par J.-T. Parisot (Paris: Bossange frères, 1823). Available online: James Mill, Elements of Political Economy, 3rd edition revised and corrected (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1844). </titles/302>.
[24.] Marx, "Comments on James Mill, Éléments D'économie Politique (1823)" <>. German version:
Gesetzt, wir hätten als Menschen produziert: Jeder von uns hätte in seiner Produktion sich selbst und den andren doppelt bejaht. Ich hatte 1. im meiner Produktionmeine Individualität, ihre Eigentümlichkeit vergegenständlicht und daher sowohl während der Tätigkeit eine individuelle Lebensäußerung genossen, als im Anschauen des Gegenstandes die individuelle Freude, meine Persönlichkeit als gegenständliche, sinnlich anschaubare und darum über allen Zweifel erhabene Macht zu wissen. 2. In deinem Genuß oder deinem Gebrauch meines Produkts hatte ich unmittelbar den Genuß, sowohl des Bewußtseins, in meiner Arbeit ein menschliches Bedürfnis befriedigt, also das menschliche Wesen vergegenständlicht und daher dem Bedürfnis eines andren menschlichen Wesens seinen entsprechenden Gegenstand verscharrt zu haben, 3. für dich der Mittler zwischen dir und der Gattung gewesen zu sein, also von dir selbst als eine Ergänzung deines eignen Wesens und als ein notwendiger Teil deiner selbst gewußt und empfunden zu werden, also sowohl in deinem Denken wie in deiner Liebe mich bestätigt zu wissen, 4. in meiner individuellen Lebensäußerung unmittelbar deine Lebensäußerung geschaffen zu haben, also in meiner individuellen Tätigkeit unmittelbar mein wahres Wesen, mein menschliches, mein Gemeinwesenbestätigund Verwirklichzu haben.
Marx, "Auszüge aus James Mills Buch "Eléméns d'economie politique" (1844)," in Marx Engels Werke, Erganzungsband Teil 1, pp. 445-63. Quote from p. 462. <>.