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 explained how workers are exploited under capitalism. Workers appear to receive wages that represent full payment for the time they work in production when, in fact, their wages cover only the ‘necessary labour time’ that is required to meet their own needs. During ‘surplus’ or ‘unpaid’ labour time, workers produce ‘surplus value’ that enables the capitalists who hire them to make a profit (see Fine and Saad-Filho 2003). Marx stressed how exploitation is an endemic aspect of capitalism and how it could not be removed by any kind of reform of the labour market or work organisation. Exploitation, he argued, could only be resolved by the removal of capitalism. (p.31)


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


Marx, Labour Process

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