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

Marx’s writings on work incorporated the idea of ‘alienation’. Marx first introduced this idea in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, written in the early 1840s. It continued to figure in Marx’s later writings. Alienation, in essence, refers to the inability of people to exercise control over the work they do. While Marx argued that alienation had existed in slave and feudal societies, he felt it took on a particular form under capitalism. In capitalist society, the means of production are owned by the capitalist class, and the working class as the majority class must offer their labour services for hire in order to survive. The lack of control exercised by workers over the way that work is organised and conducted, Marx argued, has a profound negative influence on the quality of work life. (p.28)


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


Marx, Labour Process

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