- Capitalism and Alternatives -

RD's 'Craft-Idiocy'

Posted by: Barry Stoller on January 10, 19100 at 13:28:23:

Red Deathy and I have been debating the merits / demerits of the division of labor.

Although both of us adopt the Marxist position criticizing the detail division of labor as it appears in capitalist production, RD departs from Marxist orthodoxy (and the position I take) regarding the social division of labor.

RD stated in this post:

Socially divided labor still retains the fullness of human engagement with life-activity, a professional porter - such as worked at our college halls - is a multifaceted and skilled task, that engages mind and spirit, particularly if the subject is willing. To rotate jobs is to replicate the fractioning of the human spirit of productive division of labor. Not everyone can be a doctor.

This I said (here) contradicted Marxism.

RD, in response, claimed to agree with the famous Marx and Engels passage (from The German Ideology) appended to our debate... yet, squirming intellectually, he ALSO defended Morris' artisan 'socialism' (which retains the social division of labor), stating (here):

[C]ontrast the artisan shoe maker, involved in the whole process of the production of a shoe, in various tasks, with the modern shoe maker, who operates only one stage in the assembly line of shoe making...

To which I replied (here):

He's still doing only ONE job.

You are recreating Plato's argument for the social division of labor.

Let's forget Plato, however, and go straight to Marx on the subject.

Marx once attacked the VERY SAME artisan 'socialism' propounded by Morris---as it was propounded by Proudhon.

Both Proudhon and Morris repudiated the detail division of labor as a stultification of man's creative capacity. Unlike Marx, both Proudhon and Morris suggested a return to artisanship (i.e. single commodity production by one skilled laborer) as a way of 'reconstituting' man's creativity atomized by the detail division of labor. That 'solution,' however, is regressive; indeed, Marx termed it petty bourgeois.

Recall this passage:

What characterizes the division of labor in the automatic workshop is that labor has there completely lost its specialized character. But the moment every special development stops, the need for universality, the tendency towards an integral development of the individual begins to be felt. The automatic workshop wipes out specialization and craft-idiocy.

M. Proudhon, not having understood even this one revolutionary side of the automatic workshop, takes a step backward and proposes to the worker that he make not only the twelfth part of a pin, but successively all twelve parts of it. The worker would thus arrive at the knowledge and the consciousness of the pin...

To sum up, M. Proudhon has not gone further than the petty bourgeois ideal. And to realize this ideal, he can think of nothing better than to take us back to the journeyman or, at most, to the master craftsman of the Middle Ages.(1)

There can be no doubt that Marx is criticizing the social division of labor here:

What characterizes the division of labor inside modern society is that it engenders specialized functions, specialists, and with them craft-idiocy.(2)

Marx, like Proudhon (and Morris), acknowledges that the detail division of labor transforms a person into a cog---although Marx qualifies this observation by noting that it does sowithin the social relations of capitalist production. Unlike Proudhon (and Morris) who reject ALTOGETHER the detail division of labor (and with it the increased productivity of machine production that socialism is predicated upon), Marx accepts instead that 'evil'---but mitigated by job rotation:

[I]n communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, and criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.(3)

To be sure, that passage does not address the detail division of labor needed to sustain socialist abundance. However, it does firmly advocate job rotation. As far as the necessity for the detail division of labor in order to create the objective conditions of socialism goes, Marx stated in Capital:

[D]ivision of labor in manufacture creates a qualitative gradation, and a quantitative proportion in the social process of production; it consequently creates a definite organization of the labor of society, and thereby develops at the same time new productive forces in the society... [I]t presents itself historically as a progress and as a necessary phase in the economic development of society.(4)

To sum:

The detail division of labor, engendering the industrial revolution, was a progressive development for the productive forces of society. One of its progressive features was to eradicate the social division of labor characterized by guild crafts with its master / apprentice relations. Another progressive feature, of course, was abundance (the predicate of socialism). In the hands of the capitalists, however, this mode of production is exploitive and oppressive, benefiting only the capitalists. Once the mode of production is transformed by socialist social relations, however, the detail division of labor can then be humanized---largely by abolishing the social division of labor that creates castes and sects---and the craft-idiocy that RD unfortunately champions.

Well, RD, you must now choose between Marx and Morris, I have demonstrated that you can't stand by both...


1. Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, International n.d., pp. 121-2.

2. Ibid, p. 121.

3. Marx & Engels, The German Ideology, International 1939, p. 22.

4. Marx, Capital volume one, International 1967, p. 364.

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