Marx and John Paul II on Work
- Work expresses the individual person. "What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce."
- Does this conclusion follow?
- (No: all that follows is that a part of what they are coincides with the production.)
- Labor-power is bought by the capitalist in the same way that other tools are. The activity of the laborer is sold to another person, and hence the person sells herself, though only for a time.
- Here we seem to have a logical slide. Marx insisted that it was labor-power that was sold, not the actual activity of the laborer.
- No matter how poorly the worker does the job, as long as minimal performance is observed, the laborer must be paid--though perhaps not re-hired. So what was bought was not the full activity of the worker, expressive of the worker, but an aspect.
- Furthermore, the argument depends on the claim that work is the only way we can express ourselves. But even while working, we can have a chance to express ourselves in various ways (prayer, showing pride in work, etc.)
- Alienated labor: The worker in a capitalist system is alienated both from her own labor--which she has sold--and from the product of the labor, since she has no share in the profits of the labor. Therefore, she is alienated from herself, since her work in a sense is herself.
- But presumably whether future employment is offered depends on the quality of the labor. Moreover, the worker can still try to do the job well.
- Is the problem with the individual laborer or with the social system?
John Paul II
- John Paul II distinguishes between the subjective and objective side of work. The objective side is what is done (the object in the sentence: "x did y"). The subjective side is what happens in the person (the subject in the sentence: "x did y").
- On the objective side, through work (and technology) we subject the earth to humanity. This is good (in principle).
- But it is the subjective side that matters more. Work is worth doing--it is a part of human flourishing. "Industriousness" is a virtue, something that is a part of a good human life, of self-realization. (Think of how a job may be worth doing even if one fails in the end. A desperate battle lost. Etc.) Work is for the human being, not the human being for the work.
- Here then there is danger: one may focus on the objective side while neglecting the subjective, thus treating the human being as yet another instrument, rather than as a maker, a participant in the glory of creation. There is the thread, the loom, and the weaver. (Marx is worried about the same thing.)
- The subjective side does not change while the objective does.
- This is contrary to Marx who thinks that work has a different nature in different contexts--remember his discussion of different periods of history. It seems that John Paul II is committed to the idea that the virtue of good work well done, when indeed the object of the work is good, can be had in all circumstances. It is possible that one is being exploited, that one is a slave, that one is being treated as an instrument. But nonetheless one is not actually an instrument--one is being incorrectly treated as such. It seems one can still have the basic virtue of industriousness despite all the distortions. (Here it is worth remembering that John Paul II in his youth was literally a slave laborer under the Nazis.
- If I am an employer, how can I avoid treating a worker as an instrument?
- If am a worker, how can I maintain my own dignity in the work?