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It is in the prosecution of some single object, and in striving to reach its accomplishment by the combined application of his moral and physical energies, that the true happiness of man, in his full vigour and development, consists. Possession, it is true, crowns exertion with repose; but it is only in the illusions of fancy that it has power to charm our eyes. If we consider the position of man in the universe,—if we remember the constant tendency of his energies towards some definite activity, and recognize the influence of surrounding nature, which is ever provoking him to exertion, we shall be ready to acknowledge that repose and possession do not indeed exist but in imagination. - Wilhelm von Humboldt, The Sphere and Duties of Government (The Limits of State Action) (1854 ed.)

Friday, January 2, 2009

Capitalist Alienation of Labor: Chomsky on Anarchism

Chomsky on Anarchism, Noam Chomsky, p123-124:
Guérin quotes Adolph Fischer, who said that "every anarchist is a socialist but not every socialist is necessarily an anarchist." Similarly Bakunin, in his "anarchist manifesto" of 1865, the program of his projected international revolutionary fraternity, laid down the principle that each member must be, to begin with, a socialist.

A consistent anarchist must oppose private ownership of the means of production(1) and the wage slavery(2) which is a component of this system, as incompatible with the principle that labor must be freely undertaken and under the control of the producer. As Marx put it, socialists look forward to a society in which labor will "become not only a means of life, but also the highest want in life," an impossibility when the worker is driven by external authority or need rather than inner impulse: "no form of wage-labor, even though one may be less obnoxious than another, can do away with the misery of wage-labor itself." A consistent anarchist must oppose not only alienated labor(3) but also the stupefying specialization of labor(4) that takes place when the means for developing production
mutilate the worker into a fragment of a human being, degrade him to become a mere appurtenance of the machine, make his work such a torment that its essential meaning is destroyed; estrange from him the intellectual potentialities of the labor process in very proportion to the extent to which science is incorporated into it as an independent power....
Marx saw this not as an inevitable concomitant of industrialization, but rather as a feature of capitalist relations of production. The society of the future must be concerned to "replace the detail-worker of today...reduced to a mere fragment of a man, by the fully developed individual, fit for a variety of labours...to whom the different social function...are but so many modes of giving free scope to his own natural powers." The prerequisite is the abolition of capital and wage labor as social categories (not to speak of the industrial armies of the "labor state" or the various modern forms of totalitarianism or state capitalism). The reduction of man to an appurtenance of the machine, a specialized tool of production, might in principle be overcome, rather than enhanced, with the proper development and use of technology, but not under the conditions of autocratic control of production by those who make man an instrument to sever their ends, overlooking his individual purposes, in Humboldt's phrase.
Wikified for your enjoyment!

UPDATED: Added some notes to my commentary as to what it means to me.

(1) Notice that this is a prohibition of private ownership of the means of production, eg. the factory, and NOT an abolition of private ownership per se, eg. cars, homes, chairs, food, etc. I am not clear why socialism and/or anarchism are rightly criticized as doing away with private property?
(2) My understanding of what wage slavery is: When the means of production are privately owned then the means of distribution are privately owned allowing for inequitable allocation. This inequity forces people to work for even the most basic fundamental needs of life: Food and shelter. Hence they are slaves to the owners of production; assuming they wish to live.
(3) My understanding of alienated labor is: When the means of production are privately owned then the worker is not free in, ie. in control of, either the methodology in their labor(s) or the results of their labor(s): They do not get to decide how to do their job or what to do with the final product(s).
(4) Specialization impedes the prospect for human eudaimonia (ie. human flourishing). Radical theories such as Parecon and Libertarian Municipalism have addressed this. But in brief, we each would be swimming in our own garbage without garbage people. Both at home and at work we throw away thoughtlessly: We know that someone will come and get it and take it away. And sure if you scratch the surface in discussion with someone about this they will agree that this role is vital, but of course we do not remunerate accordingly. And this role is certainly uncreative and mind-numbing, massively so in comparison to those reading this in all likelihood. This is specialization at the national economic level, and within corporations is assumed. It is also clear that one's position in the corporate capitalist system directly affects their health and well-being. Most do not flourish in a capitalist conceived economy.

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