By Richard V. Reeves – Before capitalism, there was work. Before markets, before even money, there was work. Our remotest ancestors, hunting and gathering, almost certainly did not see work as a separate, compartmentalized part of life in the way we do today. But we have always had to work to live. Even in the 21st century, we strive through work for the means to live, hence the campaign for a “living wage.”
As a species, we like to define ourselves through our thoughts and wisdom, as Homo sapiens. But we could as easily do so through the way we consciously apply effort towards certain goals, by our work – as Homo laborans. It nonetheless took two revolutions, one agricultural, one industrial, to turn “work” into its own category.
Industrial capitalism sliced and diced human time into clearly demarcated chunks, of “work” and “leisure”. Work was then bundled and packaged into one of the most important inventions of the modern era: a job. From this point on, the workers’ fight was for a job that delivered maximum benefits, especially in terms of wages, in return for minimum costs imposed on the worker, especially in terms of time.
For Karl Marx, the whole capitalist system was ineluctably rigged against workers. Whatever the short-run victories of the trade unions, the capitalist retained the power; the ultimate control, over workers’ time. And the worker would remain forever alienated from their work. The goal was to assert sovereignty over our own time, free of the temporal control of the capitalist, able “to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner.”
The problem of alienation is far from solved. more>