For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Marx and Marxist views on work and the capitalist labour process"

by Spencer, David A (2014)


The writings of Karl Marx and the Marxist tradition offer a profound analysis of work. Marx combined an analysis of work as a vital human activity, with a critique of the form of work under capitalism. Work, in Marx’s view, remained ‘alienating’ under capitalist conditions; however, it retained the potential to become a life-enhancing activity in a future communist society. The alienation of the worker from his or her work could not be overcome, according to Marx, without the abolition of capitalism, and the move to communism. Marx’s analysis of work has remained, and continues to remain, a source of inspiration for critical work researchers as well as political activists.

Key Passage

At one level, work is a social and communal activity. People forge important social connections via work and these have wider ramifications for the nature of society as a whole (Marx 1968: 80). Marx referred to the way that societies can be distinguished by the social organisation of work. How work is organised and how producers relate to one another has a direct bearing on the character of society. Marx’s attempt to define societies on the basis of the form or mode of work that predominates in those societies forms a central part ofhis materialist approach to the study of history. At another level, work affects the development and overall well-being of people. Who people are and able to become is influenced by the work they do. Marx referred to the way that people realise and develop their capabilities and identities through the activity of work. Work is not just a chore to be endured; it is also a potentially liberating activity that can improve the life experiencesof people. (p.27)


Marx, Alienation, Marxist, Capitalism, Critical Theory, Political Activism


Marx, Labour Process

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