In keeping with the suggestion to carefully analyze passages of “appearance” within Marx’s writing, I am struck by own naivety in terms of the appearance of my labor. The relationship that Marx (with the help of others) portrays between wage laborers and slave laborers resulted in a bout of self-loathing.
The combination of Marx’s thought with quotes from T.R Edmonds and J. Steuart reveal the persuasiveness of appearance in regards to labor—a concept which, in my mind, should have received greater attention and space. While Edmonds provides a distinction between “free” laborers and slaves by pointing out the ability of “changing [the free labourer’s] master,” it is when he comments on the “erroneous” tendency of the free labourer to “think himself free” that Edmonds enters the discourse of appearance (1027). Though Edmond goes on to point out other distinctions, it is Steuart that provides another key factor in this discussion by suggesting “Men were then forced to labour, because they were slaves to others; men are now forced to labour because they are slaves of their own wants” (1028). The idea is rather obvious when taking these points into consideration, yet labor (at least in my opinion) is masked by “sticking it to the Man” or working for a boss who you flip off when they exit the room. This concept, then, seems to contribute to the “mysterious” element of capital by creating this illusionary scapegoat for our angst, while the whole time we were simply imagining ourselves to have freely chosen to work.
Marx’s contribution comes in the form of the social question, which raises more differences between free laborers and slaves while simultaneously complicating the distinction. According to Marx, though the slave is kept in his situation by “direct compulsion,” the “free worker” must stay in his role due to the dependence of his family (1031). By continuously requiring the sale of his labor power, the laborer becomes a slave to his own wants and needs in accordance with the social relationships surrounding him. Marx goes on to suggest that “the capitalist relationship appears to be an improvement in one’s position in the social scale”, but “it is otherwise when the independent peasant or artisan becomes a wage-labourer” (1033). Once again we encounter an easily understood relationship—that of a serf/slave to a wage labourer—and realize the hidden, negative elements that are overlooked. By transitioning to a wage-labourer, Marx argues, the artisan becomes indifferent to his work; an idea that could be read as a nod to Hegel, where the self-consciousness of the slave exists due to the realization that he shapes the world around him through his work. If the slave ceases to care about his work, does this alter the dialectic? While wages, “versatility,” etc. may create a disparate understanding between the two forms of labor, Marx and co. create a similar turn to that of Hegel by presented an obviously skewed reality before understanding a negative conception of it through analysis.
I was wondering if anyone else had thoughts on this segment of Capital in terms of contesting how we might typically view our own labor, or if we can understand our reasons for working beyond commodity fetishism as a middle ground between wage labor and slavery.