Karl Marx and Labor Karl Marx is known not as just a philosopher but as a revolutionary, whose works inspired the foundation of many communist regimes in the twentieth century. Marx has have had much influence in the creation of the modern world. Trained as a philosopher, Marx turned away from philosophy in his mid-twenties, towards economics and politics. However, in addition to his overtly philosophical early work, his later writings have many points of contact with contemporary philosophical debates, especially in the philosophy of history and the social sciences, and in moral and political philosophy.
Marx argues Capitalism is distinctive, in that it involves not only the exchange of commodities, but the advancement of capital, in the form of money, with the purpose of generating profit through the purchase of commodities and their transformation into other commodities which can command a higher price, and thus yield a profit (Philosophy 2003). Marx claims that no previous theorist has been able to explain how capitalism as a whole can make a profit. Marx’s own solution relies on the idea of exploitation of the worker. In setting up conditions of production the capitalist purchases the worker’s labor power his ability to labor for the day. The cost of this commodity is determined in the same way as the cost of every other, in terms of the amount of socially necessary labor power required to produce it (Philosophy 2003). In this case the value of a day’s labor power is the value of the commodities necessary to keep the worker alive for a day. This can be seen in the statement, “we have shown that the worker sinks to the level of a commodity and becomes indeed the most wretched of commodities” (Marx n.d.).
Suppose that such commodities take four hours to produce. Thus, the first four hours of the working day is spent on producing value equivalent to the value of the wages the worker will be paid, this is known as ‘necessary labor’ (Philosophy 2003). Any work the worker does above this is known as ‘surplus labor’, producing surplus value for the capitalist (Philosophy 2003). Surplus value, according to Marx, is the source of all profit. In Marx’s analysis labor power is the only commodity which can produce more value than it is worth, and for this reason it is known as variable capital. Other commodities simply pass their value on to the finished commodities, but do not create any extra value, they are known as constant capital. Profit, then, is the result of the labor performed by the worker beyond that necessary to create the value of his or her wages (Philosophy 2003). It is important to understand that for Marx alienation is not only a matter of subjective feeling, or confusion.
The bridge between Marx’s early analysis of alienation and his later social theory is the idea that the alienated individual is ‘a plaything of alien forces’. In citizens lives they make decisions that have unintended consequences, which then combine to create bigger social forces which may have an unpredicted, and volatile, effect. In Marx’s view the institutions of capitalism themselves the consequences of human behavior come back to structure their future behavior, determining the possibilities of human action. For example, for as long as a capitalist intends to stay in business he must exploit his workers to the legal limit. Whether or not wracked by guilt the capitalist must act as a ruthless exploiter. Similarly, the worker must take the best job on offer; there is simply no other option. But by doing this we reinforce the very structures that oppress us. It can be seen in this excerpt, “No sooner is the exploitation of the laborer by the manufacturer, so far, at an end, that he receives his wages in cash, then he is set upon by the other portions of the bourgeoisie, the landlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker, etc” (Marx n.d.).
The urge to transcend this condition, and to take collective control of our destiny whatever that would mean in practice is one of the motivating and sustaining elements of Marx’s social analysis. Works Cited: 1. Marx, Karl. n.d. Marx estrangled labor and the communist Manifesto. Philosophy, Stanford Encyclopedia of. 2003. 2. “Karl Marx.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. August 26. Accessed December 7, 2017. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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