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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Is Blogging a Marxist Activity?

In writing posts on a blog, is a blogger alienated, or estranged, from his or her own labor and the product (i.e., the posts)? If not, would Karl Marx say that both the blogging activity and any resulting content exemplify his ideal? In short, are bloggers de facto Marxists? Or are we entrepreneurs better suited to Capitalism? In this respect, we can distinguish the free-standing blogger from the blogger who works on a blog owned by a company (i.e., others).
 Just as what we wear reflects ourselves, so too does our writing. How might what this blogger is "advertising" on his shirt not only reflect on himself, but also be related to his blogging as well his blog's content?      Image Source: drinkwithawrench.com                        

In answering these questions, I look first at Marx’s criticism of labor that is alienated from the worker. Marx argues that a worker laboring on another’s product is estranged from both the worker’s own labor and the product. In both respects, clues of the sort of labor that Marx advocates can be found. From these inferences, I turn to Marx’s positive characterization of labor that is natural for the sapiens species, drawing also on Maslow, Locke, and the erasable Nietzsche for additional support.
In terms of the worker being alienated or estranged from the product of his or her own labor, Marx offers the following explanation.
The worker puts his life into the object; but now his life no longer belongs to him but to the object. Hence, the greater this activity, the more the worker lacks objects. Whatever the product of his labor is, he is not. Therefore, the greater this product, the less is he himself.”[1]
That of his life that a worker puts into the product by means of his labor being mixed into the product in process does not give him a property right in the product as Locke would insist; rather, that of the worker’s life that is put into the product is lost to the worker when the product leaves his hands and belongs entirely to another (i.e., the property owner, or capitalist). As the worker works on more products, the worker’s wages per unit decreases because the owner of the means of production and the product receives less revenue per product. In other words, mass production is a volume business depending in part on low labor costs (i.e., the cost leadership strategy). With lower wages per unit, the worker himself can afford to buy fewer commodities, hence he lacks objects. Also, he lacks objects in that he immediately loses contact with the objects of his labor once he has put his labor into them. Of course, the products were never his, even as he worked on them. Accordingly,

“The alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labor becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently, as something alien to him, and that it becomes a power on its own confronting him. It means that the life which he has conferred on the object confronts him as something hostile and alien.”[2]

That the product belongs to another (i.e., the property owner) accounts for its external existence. Accordingly, that of the worker’s own life that is mixed into the product belongs to someone else rather than himself. The worker is thus cut off from part of his own life. The power of the object that confronts the worker in a hostile manner stems from the adversarial relationship between a worker and the property-owner that is exploitive. In short, the worker is estranged both from his own life that he puts into the product and the product itself. It follows that he is alienated from the production process too.

(T)he estrangement is manifested not only in the result but in the act of production, within the producing activity, itself. How could the worker come to face the product of his activity as a stranger, were it not that in the very act of production he was estranging himself from himself? The product is after all but the summary of the activity, of production. If then the product of labor is alienation, production itself must be active alienation, the alienation of activity, the activity of alienation.”[3]

In other words, the worker’s labor is not her own, even during the activity of laboring. According to Marx, “the external character of labor for the worker appears in the fact that it is not his own, but someone else’s, that it does not belong to him, that in it he belongs, not to himself, but to another.”[4] It is, one might say, a kind of theft protected by the laws of property and the related sanctity of contract.

From this account, we can begin to construct Marx’s view on how labor and its products ought to be related to the worker. Already, we can infer that the life of the worker that the worker herself puts into the products through her labor should belong to her. She should feel that a part of herself—her life—is in the product as well as the production process. Hence, the worker does not view either one as an object, not to mention alien and hostile. Economically, that the worker’s life materialized is not separated from the worker implies that the worker has some ownership interest in both the labor process and the product. Granted that Marx can be labeled an economic materialist, I find psychology to be salient in his positive account of labor.

For example, Marx claims that for labor to be external to the worker means that “it does not belong to his intrinsic nature.”[v] Therefore, work activity should reflect one’s intrinsic nature. Furthermore, through such activity and the products thereof, the worker should be able to affirm or validate herself, hence feel content and free enough to develop her physical and mental energy to strengthen her body and mind. All this is implied in the following:

 In work external to the worker, “he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home.”[6]

Put in Maslow’s terms, applying one’s labor to a product that reflects one’s life naturally facilitates self-actualization. Marx claims that the productive life of a human being is naturally “life-engendering”[7] It is in the nature of our species that we come to learn more about ourselves through our work—both in the activity and from the results. Put another way, seeing one’s life expressed tangibly tells one something new about one’s life and one’s very self. We are naturally at one with our life activity, which “appears only as a means of life.”[8] Moreover, “Man makes his life activity itself the object of his will and of his consciousness. . . .  (H)e duplicates himself not only, as in consciousness, intellectually, but also actively, in reality, and therefore he sees himself in a world that he has created.”[9] How could the worker not learn more about himself from seeing himself in a world materialized in a product that he himself has created?

In writing an essay on a blog, whether involving one’s political, economic, social, moral or religious values and beliefs, a blogger is there, putting his life—and indeed himself—into not only the process of writing (and designing the blog itself), but also the contents of the posts, whether intentionally or not.

The blogger who dutifully writes a daily online-diary of her personal life, for instance, is pours her life and her passion quite intentionally into her writing (both as her writing process and the content of her writing). Her productive activity is essentially an imprint of her memory and her processing of it cognitively. Her very being is engaged and displayed. She might even have a picture of herself on her blog’s home-page. Such a blogger is certainly not alienated from her own blog, the writing process, or the written content. The blog is an extension of her life-experience and her creative spirit whose shadow she has made concrete without being forced to regard the imprint as an object external to, or even cut off from her, as if she were a mother forced to part with her infant whom a property-owner views as a commodity.

Even regarding scholars, such as me, who write and post essays applying theory to unpack current events for the general educated reader, we ourselves are in our respective approaches to writing as well as in the content. Friedrich Nietzsche, a German classicist and moral philosopher writing in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, argues in his writing that when a philosopher reasons and is in the process of writing, the contending reasons are actually urges, or instincts, vying for dominance over each other. The written page is a snapshot of whichever instincts were on top when the philosopher wrote down the words. It follows that a scholar puts his or her life—indeed, very being—into his or her rational, “objective” academic writing. The instincts that manifest as values and beliefs are not absent from the fight for dominance inside the philosopher’s psyche. Hence, differing appreciably from Flaubert, Nietzsche urges us to write with passion—with ourselves personally engaged—rather than to write from a distance from ourselves by striving to perfect our writing-form. “Of all that is written, I love only what a person has written with his blood. Write with blood, and you will find that blood is spirit.”[10]

Also in line with Marx’s ideal, a blogger typically does not lose the product once it has been mixed with one’s labor. Even in syndication, a blogger holds the copyright. A blogger can go back to “revise and extend” any of his published posts. Both the way in which a particular blogger revises and the content itself that the blogger deems so important (or unimportant) to add (or remove) says something more about the blogger, as does comparing the revised “edition” to the original. Perhaps different instincts had overcome the hegemony of those imprinted in the original.

In short, a blogger infuses her thought-process, values, beliefs, and ideologies—indeed, even her intrinsic nature—in both the process and product, the latter remaining with rather than estranged from the laborer. Marx would be pleased—more so, I might add, than had he lived to witness the U.S.S.R. Next to writing a book or screenplay, blogging may even be the epitome of Marx’s ideal work-activity on account of the salience of both self-expression and freedom-of-expression in the writing as a process and enduring rather than alienated product. In multiplying the freedom realizable in the species’ productive activity, the internet may just be the world of self-realization through labor that Marx himself could never have imagined.

 [1] Marx, Karl, “Estranged Labour,” Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. (Marxists.org). Accessed August 18, 2013.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, ch. 7.