Monday, September 03, 2007

Bullshit or Not?: Karl and Chico Marx Labor Day Edition

There's an old sketch film called Amazon Women on the Moon and one of the bits is a parody of the old Leonard Nimoy show, "In Search Of..." called, "Bullshit or Not?" with the tagline "Bullshit or not? You decide." It's a line I like so much that I've stolen it for an occasional series of posts.

In honor of labor day, today's bullshit or not quotation is from Karl Marx on alienated labor from the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844:

The worker becomes poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production increases in power and extent. The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more commodities he produces. The devaluation of the human world grows in direct proportion to the increase in value of the world of things. Labour not only produces commodities; it also produces itself and the workers as a commodity and it does so in the same proportion in which it produces commodities in general.

This fact simply means that the object that labour produces, its product, stands opposed to it as something alien, as a power independent of the producer. The product of labour is labour embodied and made material in an object, it is the objectification of labour. The realization of labour is its objectification. In the sphere of political economy, this realization of labour appears as a loss of reality for the worker, objectification as loss of and bondage to the object, and appropriation as estrangement, as alienation.
By working harder are you alienating yourself from your life? Do all occupations in a capitalist economy result in this sort of bondage, or only those that involve personal ads?

Of course, the reciprocal proposition, that you become more valuable the less you work, was posited by the other Marxes in the opening scene of Animal Crackers:
Mrs. Rittenhouse: You are one of the musicians? But you were not due until tomorrow.

Ravelli: Couldn't come tomorrow, that's too quick.

Spaulding: Say, you're lucky they didn't come yesterday!

Ravelli: We were busy yesterday, but we charge just the same.

Spaulding: This is better than exploring! What do you fellows get an hour?

Ravelli: Oh, for playing we get ten dollars an hour.

Spaulding: I see. What do you get for not playing?

Ravelli: Twelve dollars an hour.

Spaulding: Well, clip me off a piece of that.

Ravelli: Now, for rehearsing we make special rate. That's fifteen dollars an hour.

Spaulding: That's for rehearsing?

Ravelli: That's for rehearsing.

Spaulding: And what do you get for not rehearsing?

Ravelli: You couldn't afford see, if we don't rehearse, we don't play, and, if we don't play, that runs into money.
So, the more you work, the less valuable you are and the less you work, the more valuable. On this holiday when few are working, we ask you to take from your valuable time and tell us -- bullshit or not?

As usual, feel free to leave comments ranging from a single word to a dissertation. Happy labor day, everyone.