Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON
LECTURE ONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d__In2PQS60
LECTURE TWO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al7O2puvdDA

ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE



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Saturday, November 22, 2014

I SAW IT AT THE MOVIES


After a day of rest, I have returned to my course preparations, today re-reading the famous discussion of alienated labor from the Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.  I should not be surprised if all of the readers of this rather recherché blog are fully familiar with the text, but if there are some folks who have been drawn to my daily musings merely out of an affection for Paris or from grandfatherly fellow-feeling, I should explain that at the age of twenty-six, the young Karl Marx, living in Paris, sat down to sort out some thoughts.  On large sheets of paper he drew vertical lines to create three columns, each headed with one of the central categories of Political Economy:  Land, Labor, Capital.  Then he wrote as much as he had to say about each subject, page after page.  He never published these writings -- they were in the nature of study notes or self-explications -- but in the twentieth century they finally saw the light of day.  They were seized on especially by dedicated Marxists who were alienated from Stalinist Russia, which had appropriated Capital as its bible.  In this and other early writings, a number of mid-century radicals found fresh inspiration.

The text breaks off abruptly in what is clearly the middle of a much longer exposition.  In the edition I shall be assigning, it runs only to sixteen pages, and yet there is a world in those pages. I shall spend much of a two and a half hour class unfolding that world for my students.

In this post, I should like simply to quote a single brief passage from what is, in my opinion, the richest passage, and connect it with one of my favorite movies from the '50s, the Peter Sellars vehicle, I'm All Right Jack.  Here are the two sentences from the manuscript on alienated labor:

"The worker, therefore, feels himself only outside his work, and feels beside himself in his work.  He is at home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home."

In the movie, Sellars plays a communist union boss whose members work at a factory, owned by Dennis Price, in which wealthy young Ian Carmichael finds a job [he is enamored of Sellars' implausibly bosomy daughter.]  Price wants to lay off some workers, but Sellars negotiates for them a deal that allows them to stay on the payroll even though they are now supernumerary.  Each day those workers sit behind a stack of bales on pallets and play cards.  One day, Sellars schedules a labor action.  The workers stream out of the factory, but the excess workers, behind their bales, do not notice at first that their comrades are on strike.  Suddenly, they realize what is going on, and they drop their cards, jump up from their chairs, and hurry out of the factory -- presumably to go home, where they will play cards!
 
That scene is the perfect comic rendering of Marx's profound insight.  For half a century and more, I have wondered idly whether the writers knew what they were doing

1 comment:

Tim said...

It's a fascinating text. I'm very interested to hear any more you have to say about it - I just taught an undergrad seminar on it yesterday (amongst other texts by Marx), so it's fresh in my mind..