Academic journal article Utopian Studies

The Idea of Abolition of Labor in Socialist Utopian Thought. (Essays)

Academic journal article Utopian Studies

The Idea of Abolition of Labor in Socialist Utopian Thought. (Essays)

Article excerpt

Preface

CHANGING THE PREVAILING MODE OF PRODUCTION, transforming it into a new form of activity that can be experienced as free creation, has always been an important feature of utopian thinking. Human emancipation, liberation of humankind from different forms of servitude and exploitation, cannot be complete unless we abolish those aspects of our economic activity which deprive us of freedom--that is, which are a source of servitude and alienation, of unhappiness. We already find this idea in Thomas More's Utopia. Thus, the founder of the genre of utopian literature writes in his famous work that the residents of Utopia, the imaginary home of the ideal socialist society, manage their production in such a way that "no one sit idle, but each apply himself industriously to his trade, and yet that he be not wearied like a beast of burden with constant toil from early morning till late at night. Such wretchedness is worse than the lot of slaves, and yet it is almost everywhere the life of workingmen--except for the Utopians (69-70)." I discuss in this article the idea of a radical change in the mode of production in the writings of Marx, Fromm and Marcuse, which are closely connected in many respects. For denoting this radical change, namely the qualitatively new mode of production, I use the term "abolition of labor" as Marx used it in his early writings. I believe that the idea of abolition of labor, as discussed by these three thinkers, enables us to understand better the connection between the various dimensions of human emancipation. As such, it also sheds light on the reasons for the failure of famous socialist experiments in the 20th century.

Marx's early writings have unmistakably utopian character. Even some of the manuscripts that Marx wrote when he was in his forties and fifties bear such a character. It is well known that Marx himself denounced "utopian" thinkers and "utopianism". This denunciation was based on a very narrow definition of utopianism. For him utopianism was not so much a scheme for a better society, which breaks radically with current social relations and ways of life, but rather a radical vision of a new, socialist society that overlooks socioeconomic trends and concomitant political forces, and thus contains "unrealistic" suggestions for transforming it in actual existence. The socioeconomic trends and related political forces, as defined by Marx (and Engels) may be briefly mentioned. The most significant structural change in modern times is the development of the social character of production (of production as socially combined work), mainly as a result of the economic and technological endeavors of the bourgeois class. After a certain juncture, a contradiction between this character of modern production and the private ownership of the means of production develops, a contradiction which restrains further development of productive forces. The new, social form of production gives birth to a new working class--the proletariat, which strives to replace the private ownership of the means of production by social ownership. A class struggle follows, which the proletariat, representing socioeconomic and technological progress, will (in the short or long run) necessarily win. These are the main components of so-called Scientific Socialism (a term coined by Engels). By overlooking this socioeconomic and political development, the utopian thinkers positioned themselves out of the historical process. They situated themselves beyond the limits of the historically possible.

As some researchers suggest, "scientific" socialism is by no means more realistic than utopian socialism (Thompson 801). The deterministic historical process, as described by "scientific" socialism, cannot be proven. The famous "revolt of modern productive forces ... against the [bourgeois] property relations", which curb their growth (Marx and Engels, Werke [henceforth MEW]: Manifest der kommunistischen Partei, 4: 467) is all but a myth. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.