Marx viewed capitalism as a more extreme form of domination than feudalism. In his view, in destroying work as craft and reducing workers to a specialized function, capitalism had eliminated creative expression in work, a component of life that, in his view, is fundamental to human essence. Capitalism, in Marx’s view, was a system in which workers were alienated from the process of production, which was imposed upon the worker as an alien force.
On the other hand, the great strength of capitalism, for Marx, was its extremely high productive efficiency. Constantly seeking more efficient forms of production, capitalist industries as they mature increasingly utilize machines, substituting human workers. This process of automation is made possible not only by technological development, but also by the nature of human work during the capitalist stage. For the highly-specialist capitalist division of labor reduces human labor to a simple repetitive task, which is exactly the kind of task that machines can be designed to do, since they are tasks that do not require human creativity. Thus, for Marx, the industrial factory inexorably evolves toward automated industry.
Marx viewed automated industry as a new mode of production that would constitute the material foundation for a fifth stage in human history, that of socialism. Marx had a long-range view of automation from the vantage point of the worker. He saw it as establishing conditions for a society in which human beings would be freed from work in its conventional form. Instead of laboring as a slave, serf, or appendage to a machine, human beings would now have the work of designing and maintaining machines, a form of work that is much more versatile and requires education and creativity. In addition, since machines work with high efficiency, human societies would be able to produce their needs with less labor time. So not only would work be more versatile, but also labor time would be reduced. This would make it possible for human beings to engage in a variety of activities above and beyond work, such as gardening, crafting their own furniture, or studying literature. Thus Marx viewed automation as establishing the foundation for a society characterized by the efficient satisfaction of human needs, by creative work, and by the reduction of labor time.
As automation emerges, the working and capitalist classes would have different and opposed interests. Whereas the working class would have an interest in the full realization of the emancipatory implications of automation, the capitalist class would have an interest in the maximization of production in order to maximize profit. The capitalist class thus would be driven toward what Marcuse later called the production of “false needs,” which functions as the ideological foundation of the consumer society (Marcuse 1964). Driven by the pursuit of profit as an end in itself (Weber 1958), the capitalist seeks to maximize production and to psychologically manipulate workers to purchase consumer goods that do not qualitatively enhance human life.
From the working class point of view, however, the truly emancipatory implications of automation can be grasped. So the transformation from capitalism to socialism requires political action by the working class, in order that it can establish structures necessary for the transition to socialism. Just as the merchant class during feudalism could discern its long-range interests in the full realization of factory production, the working class must discern its interest in the full emancipatory implications of automated industry. And just as the merchant class became a revolutionary bourgeoisie, the working class must become a revolutionary class that acts politically to establish a new type of society on a foundation of automated industry.
Bottomore, T.B., Ed. 1964. Karl Marx: Early Writings. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Marcuse, Herbert. 1964. One-Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon Press.
Marx, Karl. 1963. The Poverty of Philosophy. New York: International Publishers.
__________. 1967. Capital, Vol. I. New York: International Publishers.
__________. 1970. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. New York: International Publishers.
__________. 1973. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. New York: Random House, Vintage Books.
Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. 1948. The Communist Manifesto. New York: International Publishers.
__________. 1965. The German Ideology. London: Lawrence & Wishart.
Weber, Max. 1958. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marx, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, automation, automated industry