Marx, Weber, Robots, and Bees:
World Making and Determinism Part 2
by Aldo, Monica, Nate, and Pamela
Capitalism is a Giant Ship
In Marx’s writings, he talks about the idea of a human world built on cooperation. When many individuals come together to cooperate in a task, the sum of their work is greater than if each one had been working separately. As such, communication and cooperation are a major part of all human societies, even that of capitalism. But the capitalistic form of cooperation is a different one than the previous kind. Marx points out that “Co-operation, such as we find it at the dawn of human development, (…) is based, on the one hand, on ownership of the common of the means of production, and on the other hand, on the fact, that in those cases, each individual has no more torn himself off from the navel-string of his tribe or community, than each bee has freed itself from connexion with the hive” (Tucker, p. 387). In previous societies, cooperation between peoples has come about as a result of the involved parties having common ownership of the means of production, as well as the fact that the cooperating individuals are doing so for the good of the collective, be it a tribe or community, much like a bee. In contrast, “the capitalistic form, on the contrary, pre-supposes from first to last, the free wage-labourer, who sells his labour power to capital. Historically, however, this form is developed in opposition to peasant agriculture and to the carrying on of independent handicrafts whether in guilds or not” (Tucker, p. 387). Since the capitalistic form of cooperation is in antithesis to the previous two points, in the fact that the means of production are controlled by the capitalist (who directs the cooperative actions) and the fact that each individual is working for himself (as is the capitalist), this form of cooperation is a different form than the historical form of cooperation Marx sees as a part of human development.
This change in the form of cooperation is important to Marx in that it allows for the generation of surplus-value and of capital; “the simultaneous employment of a large number of wage-labourers, in one and the same process (…) coincides with the birth of capital itself” (Tucker, p. 388) This is because the capitalist is the one directing the labour; “He is at liberty to set the 100 men to work, without letting them cooperate. He pays them the value of 100 independent labour-powers, but he does not pay for the combined labour-power of the hundred” (Tucker, p.386). As such, this capitalist cooperation is the fundamental form of the capitalist mode of production, and the driving force behind the production of surplus-value. While previous efforts of cooperation have resulted in the production of things for their own sake (Marx gives the example of the pyramids in Egypt) or for the benefit of the community, in capitalist society the world revolves around surplus-value and capital, so cooperation is set to that end and only that end. “The directing motive, the end and aim of capitalist production, is to extract the greatest amount of surplus-value, and consequently to exploit labour-power to the greatest possible extent” (Tucker, p. 385) says Marx. And this is in direct conflict with Marx’s idea of species-being and determination, as we covered in our previous post. In exploiting labour, by both directing the labourers to work in a way that goes against their conscious life-activity and by forcing them to take any job possible just to survive (due to the creation of unemployment – “it is capitalistic accumulation itself that constantly produces, and produces in the direct ratio of its own energy and extent, a relatively redundant population of labourers, i.e. a population of greater extent than suffices for the average needs of the self-expansion of capital, and therefore a surplus-population” (Tucker, p. 422)). As such, the world of capitalist cooperation which Marx builds in his writings is a world which directly goes against his ideas of determination and species-being, leading to a labourer which, in his exploitation, is not truly human.
According to Marx, this extreme capitalism is not truly human:
The way that Marx’s idea of how capitalism came to be and what its future is comparable to Wall-E. Like capitalism was the step after feudalism and is not an end in itself, the humans in Wall-E live on a ship after the destruction of Earth, but the ship is not the permanent home of humans. Rather, it is a necessary step before there is a chance for humans return to Earth. Despite the ship feeling like it was an end in itself, it also contained the means for the humans to make their return to Earth. The humans in Wall-E were ruled by the ship, which dictated every aspect of their lives. Like capital dominates the workers inside and outside of work, the humans were dominated by the technology of the ship in all their activities. However, the extreme technological developments along with the manuals for the return process allowed the humans the possibility of leaving the ship behind. The ship was only a step in the existence of humanity, but not the end itself.
The Bee Ethic and the Spirit of Honey
Weber, in his work titled The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, has a different view on determination and its role in capitalism. To Weber, capitalist society is not an oppressor or exploiter against what is determined by the human, but is in fact the consequence of a change in ethic as a result of a Protestant way of thinking. “Even the wealthy shall not eat without working, for even though they do not need to labour to support their own needs, there is God’s commandment which they, like the poor, must obey. For everyone without exception God’s Providence has prepared a calling, which he should profess and in which he should labour (…) And this calling is not, as it was for the Lutheran, a fate to which he must submit and which he must make the best of, but God’s commandment to the individual to work for the divine glory” (Weber, p. 106). Protestant society, in their rejection of Catholic doctrines and their belief that people find favour with God through their everyday actions and their labour, was the origin of the idea that labour was not an obligation, but a calling – an external compulsion or desire to labour for the sake of labouring, not for the profit or the need to subsist. Weber gives the example of Ben Franklin’s ethos: “Remember that time is money (…) Remember that credit is money (…) Nothing contributes more to the raising of a young man in the world than punctuality and justice in all his dealings (…) He that wastes idly a groat’s worth of time per day, one day with another, wastes the privilege of using one hundred pounds each day…” (Weber, pp. 14-16). At a glance, this seems like a purely utilitarian moral attitude: by being honest and punctual, and by labouring as much as possible, one can make money. But Weber claims that “in fact the matter is not by any means so simple (…) The circumstance that [Franklin] ascribes his recognition of the utility of virtue to a divine revelation, which was intended to lead him in the path of righteousness, shows that something more than mere garnishing for purely egocentric motives is involved” (Weber, p. 18) Based on Franklin, this spirit (what Weber calls the ‘spirit of capitalism’) is duty in a calling. Everyday activity being an expression of moral virtues, leads men to labour as a ‘path of righteousness.’ The point is not to labour for profit, but “purely as an end in itself” (Weber, p.18). And while this ethic seems to be in contrast with Marx’s idea of determination, it also leads to the same conclusion: under capitalism, the goal of the capitalist process is not to make enough money to buy commodities and then stop, but for the sake of the process itself.
Labouring is a lifetime contract, and the the duty of the people:
Weber is much better illustrated by Bee Movie than Wall-E. While there have been comments relating to political/religious agendas in Bee Movie, that is not what will be discussed here. Rather, we can focus on the fact that in Bee Movie, there is a heavy sense of duty in a calling. The bees have been producing honey for 27 million years, and it is the natural thing for them to do. Producing honey is “the bee way”, but when Barry Bee Benson ends that cycle by forcing the humans to return all the honey, he has upset the balance of nature. Like the protestants have their ethic, so do the bees. The spirit of bee-hood is like the spirit of capitalism. In Bee Movie, bees producing honey is the end in itself, not doing anything with the honey, but just creating it for the sake of creating it even if not all of it goes for their own use. Without the work of honey production, the bees do not know what to do and the entire world is disturbed in negative way. The culture of constantly producing honey is so ingrained in the bees that they do not know what to do without it.
The capitalist world which Marx builds in his writings is one of historical consequence: “The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with clash antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones” (Tucker, p. 474). In this view, capitalism was the inevitable consequence of the evolution of feudal society, but through its contradictions and failings, is also just another step in the evolution of human history, not the final destination. For Weber, the capitalist world is the result of a fundamental change in ethic, and although the influence of religion and religious compulsion to labour has faded over the years, that ethic has already been institutionalized into society. “The Puritan wanted to work in a calling, we are forced to do so. For when asceticism was carried out of monastic cells into everyday life, and began to dominate worldly morality, it did its part in building the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order (…) In Baxter’s view the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the ‘saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment.’ But fate decreed that cloak should become an iron cage” (Weber, p. 123). As a result, to Weber this world is inescapable, “perhaps (…) until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt” (Weber, p. 123). In this vein, while Marx and Weber agree on the current situation of society dominated by commodities and the capitalist mode of production, where “material goods have gained an increasing and finally an inexorable power over the lives of men as at no previous period in history” (Weber, p. 124), Weber’s world-building results in a far bleaker view of the future. Marx believes that the fall of capitalism is inevitable – Weber claims the opposite. For “today the spirit of religious asceticism (…) has escaped from the cage. But victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, needs its support no longer” (Weber, p. 124).