Freedom in Work
The other day during lecture, while discussing Marx’s and Engel’s The German Ideology, I found Marx’s views on work very interesting. Marx says that “for as soon as labor is distributed, each person has a particular exclusive area of activity which is imposed on him and from which he cannot escape”. Basically work enchains man. Work consumes you, it becomes who you are. In Marx’s ideal communistic society, work creates freedom.
In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. -Karl Marx
But does work really make you less free? I would tend to disagree with Marx on this point. In any society, you have to work, either to sustain yourself or to make money. In today’s society, people can become consumed with their job. It can become part of their identity. It is commonplace in conversation to ask someone their name, and then what they do for a living. People ask one another “Do you know John, the accountant that works downtown?”. And doctors are always referred to as Doctor so-and-so. In that sense, people are bound by their jobs. They do it everyday and it becomes a part of their identity.
However, the reason that I do not believe that work becomes binding is because of the freedom to choose. I attend the University of Michigan. I decided to study here because I felt as though it would give me the best resources to be successful in any field that I choose. I can choose to study to become a doctor, an accountant, or even a lawyer. Whatever field of work that I choose does not enchain me. What enchains me is my personality and the things that I like to do.
When Marx wrote most of his work, the idea of leisure time was really just beginning to develop. People were beginning to work in more mechanized factories and plants that would allow them to distinguish between when they were clearly working, and when they were clearly relaxing. And much of the work done in the factories was the kind of monotonous, mind-numbing work that was satirized in the clip of the Charlie Chaplin movie that we watched in lecture. In that sense, the work that Marx was describing might have actually caused people to feel as though they were losing their freedom.
But in our modern economy, I can work as a doctor in the morning, play golf in the afternoon, and spend time with my family at night. Freedom is not the ability to do whatever you want and not receive any of those labels. Freedom is the ability to do all the things that I like and receive the appropriate label. I can be a doctor with a wife and two children who enjoys playing golf during my free time. You can also defy typical stereotypes. For example, you can be an accountant with an intriguing personality and a good sense of humor. Work does not enchain us. We are free to choose what we do, and ultimately how we are thought of.
Wootton, David. “Marx and Marxism.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2008. 775-97. Print.