The division of labor is a subÂject which has fascinated social scientists for millennia. Before the advent of modern times, phiÂlosophers and theologians conÂcerned themselves with the imÂplications of the idea. Plato saw as the ultimate form of society a community in which social funcÂtions would be rigidly separated and maintained; society would be divided into definite functional groups: warriors, artisans, unÂskilled laborers, rulers. St. Paul, in his first letter to the church at Corinth, went so far as to describe the universal Church in terms of a body: there are hands, feet, eyes, and all are under the head, Christ. Anyone who intends to deal seriously with the study of society must grapple with the question of the division of labor. Karl Marx was no exception.
Marx was more than a mere economist. He was a social scienÂtist in the full meaning of the phrase. The heart of his system was based on the idea of human production. Mankind, Marx asÂserted, is a totally autonomous species-being, and as such man is the sole creator of the world in which he finds himself. A man cannot be defined apart from his labor: “As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce.”[ref]The German Ideology (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1965), p, 32. 1969[/ref]
The very fact that man rationally organizes production is what distinguishes him from the animal kingdom, according to Marx. The concept of production was a kind of intellectual “ArchiÂmedean point” for Marx. Every sphere of human life must be inÂterpreted in terms of this single idea: “Religion, family, state, law, science, art, etc., are only particular modes of production, and fall under its general law.”[ref]“Private Property and Communism,” The Economic and Philosophic ManuÂscripts of 1844, edited by Dirk J. Struik (New York: International Publishers, 1964), p. 136. [/ref]
Given this total reliance on the concept of human labor, it is quite understandable why the division of labor played such an important role in the overall Marxian frameÂwork.
Property vs. Labor
Marx had a vision of a perfect human society. In this sense, MarÂtin Buber was absolutely correct in including a chapter on Marx in his Paths in Utopia. Marx beÂlieved in the existence of a society which preceded recorded human history. In this world, men experiÂenced no sense of alienation beÂcause there was no alienated proÂduction. Somehow (and here Marx was never very clear) men fell into patterns of alienated producÂtion, and from this, private propÂerty arose.[ref]“Estranged Labor,” ibid., pp. 116-17. [/ref]
Men began to appropriate the products of other menâ€™s labor for their own purposes. In this way, the very products of a manâ€™s hands came to be used as a means of enslaving him to another. This theme, which Marx announced as early as 1844, is basic to all of Marxâ€™s later ecoÂnomic writings.
Under this system of alienated labor, Marx argued, manâ€™s very life forces are stolen from him. The source of manâ€™s immediate difficulty is, in this view, the diÂvision of labor. The division of labor was, for Marx, the very essence of all that is wrong with the world. It is contrary to manâ€™s real essence. The division of labor pits man against his fellow man; it creates class differences; it destroys the unity of the human race. Marx had an almost theologÂical concern with the unity of mankind, and his hostility to the division of labor was therefore total (even totalitarian).
Marxâ€™s analysis of the division of labor is remarkably similar to Rousseauâ€™s.[ref]J. J. Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, in G. D. H. Cole (ed.), The Social Contract and DisÂcourses (London: Dent, 1966), esp. pp. 195-208. Cf. Robert A. Nisbet, “RousÂseau and Totalitarianism,” Journal of Politics, V (1943), pp. 93-114. [/ref]Both argued that the desire for private property led to the division of labor, and this in turn gave rise to the existence of separate social classes based on economic differences. The Marxist analysis of politics relies completeÂly upon the validity of this asÂsumption. Without economic clasÂses, there would be no need for a State, since a State is, by definition, nothing more than an instrument of social control used by the members of one class to suppress the members of another.[ref]German Ideology, pp. 44-45. [/ref]Thus, when the proletarian revoÂlution comes, the proletarian class must use the State to destroy the remnants of bourgeois capitalism and the ideology of capitalism. The opposition must be stamped out; here is the meaning of the famous “ten steps” outlined in the Communist Manifesto. Once the opposition is totally eradiÂcated, there will be no more need for a State, since only one class, the proletariat, will be in exisÂtence. “In place of the old bourÂgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condiÂtion for the development of all.”[ref]The Communist Manifesto (1848), in Marx-Engels Selected Works (MosÂcow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962), I, p. 54. For a critique of this view of the State, see my study, Marxâ€™s Religion of Revolution (Nutley, New Jersey: Craig Press, 1968), p. 112. [/ref]
Marx actually believed that in the communist society beyond the Revolution, the division of labor would be utterly destroyed. All specialization would disappear. This implies that for the purÂposes of economic production and rational economic planning, all men (and all geographical areas) are created equal. It is precisely this that Christians, conservaÂtives, and libertarians have alÂways denied. Marx wrote in The German Ideology (1845-46):
.. in communist society, where noÂbody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomÂplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general proÂduction and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, withÂout ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.[ref]German Ideology, pp. 44-45. [/ref]
A Utopian Ideal
A more utopian ideal cannot be encountered in serious economic literature. While some commentaÂtors think that Marx later abanÂdoned this radical view, the eviÂdence supporting such a concluÂsion is meager. Marx never exÂplicitly repudiated it (although the more outspoken Engels did, for all intents and purposes). Even if Marx had abandoned the view, the basic problems would still reÂmain. How could a communist soÂciety abandon the specialization of labor that has made possible the wealth of modern industrialÂized society and at the same time retain modern mass production methods? How could the commuÂnist paradise keep mankind from sliding back into the primitive, highly unproductive, unskilled, low capital intensity production techniques that have kept the maÂjority of men in near starvation conditions throughout most of huÂman history?
The whole question of economic production “beyond the RevoluÂtion” was a serious stumbling stone for Marx. He admitted that there would be many problems of production and especially distribÂution during the period of the so-called “dictatorship of the proÂletariat.” This period is merely the “first phase of communist soÂciety as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society.”[ref]Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), in Marx-Engels Selected Works, II, p. 24. This is one of the few places in which Marx presented some picture of the post-Revolutionary world. [/ref]Marx never expected great things from this society. However, in the “higher phase of communist society,” the rule of economic jusÂtice shall become a reality: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”[ref]Ibid.[/ref]This will be easy to accomplish, since the vast quantities of wealth which are waiting to be released will be freed from the fetters and restraints of capitalist productive techniques. As Mises has pointed out, “Tacitly underlying Marxian theory is the nebulous idea that natural factors of production are such that they need not be economized.”[ref]Ludwig von Mises, Socialism (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press,  1951), p. 164.[/ref]Maurice Cornforth, the Marxist philosopher, confirms Misesâ€™ suspicion that Marxists see all scarcity as a product of institutional defects rather than as a basic fact of the order of the world in which we live:
The eventual and final abolition of shortages constitutes the economic condition for entering upon a communist society. When there is soÂcialized production the products of which are socially appropriated, when science and scientific planning have resulted in the production of absolute abundance, and when laÂbour has been so enlightened and organized that all can without sacrifice of personal inclinations conÂtribute their working abilities to the common fund, everyone will receive a share according to his needs.”
Who Shall Plan?
A critical problem for the Marxist is the whole question of communist planning: How is proÂduction to be directed? By what standards should the society alloÂcate scarce resources? Whatever Marxâ€™s personal dreams were conÂcerning the abolition of scarcity, resources are not in infinite supÂply. It is because of this very fact that society must plan production. Marx saw this activity as basic to the definition of man, yet this very activity implies the existÂence of scarcity, a peculiar paraÂdox for Marxism. The fact reÂmains that automobiles do not grow on trees. Someone must deÂcide how many automobiles should be produced in comparison with the number of refrigerators. PlanÂning is inherent in all economic production, and Marx recognized this: “Modern universal interÂcourse can be controlled by indiÂviduals, therefore, only when conÂtrolled by all.”[ref]German Ideology, p. 84. [/ref]But how can they “all” register their preferences? If there is no private property (and, therefore, no free market economy), and if there is no State planningâ€”no political planningâ€”then who decides which goods are to be produced and which goods are not? Murray Rothbard has stated this dilemma quite accuÂrately:
Rejecting private property, esÂpecially capital, the Left Socialists were then trapped in an inner contradiction: if the State is to disappear after the Revolution (immeÂdiately for Bakunin, gradually “withering” for Marx), then how is the “collective” to run its property without becoming an enormous State itself, in fact even if not in name? This was the contradiction which neither the Marxists nor the Bakunists were ever able to resolve.[ref]Murray N. Rothbard, “Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty,” Left and Right, I (1965), p. 8. [/ref]
The Problem of Scarcity
The need to coordinate producÂtion implies the existence of scarÂcities which the production is deÂsigned to alleviate. If everyone had all he desired at the moment of wanting it, production would be unnecessary. Raw materials must be fashioned into goods or indirectly into services, and these goods must be shipped from place to place. Such actions require time (interest on the investment of capital goods), planning (profit for success and loss for failure), and labor (wages). In short, proÂduction demands planning. No society is ever faced with the problem “to plan or not to plan.” The issue which confronts society is the question of whose plan to use. Karl Marx denied the validÂity of the free marketâ€™s planning, since the free market is based upon the private ownership of the means of production, including the use of money. Money, for Marx, is the crystallized essence of alienated production; it is the heart of capitalismâ€™s dynamism. It was his fervent hope to abolish the use of money forever.” At the same time, he denied the validity of centralized planning by the State. How could he keep his “asÂsociation” from becoming a State? The Fabian writer, G. D. H. Cole, has seen clearly what the demand for a classless society necessitates: “But a classless society means, in the modern world, a society in which the distribution of incomes is collectively controlled, as a poÂlitical function of society itself. It means further that this conÂtrolled distribution of incomes must be made on such a basis as to allow no room for the growth of class differences.”[ref]G.D. H. Cole, The Meaning of Marxism (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,  1964), p. 249. [/ref] In other words, given the necessity of a political function in a supposedly stateless world, how can the Marxists escape the warning once offered by Leon Trotsky: “In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old prinÂciple: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat.”[ref]Leon Trotsky, The Revolution BeÂtrayed (1936), quoted by F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (University of Chicago Press, 1944), p. 119. [/ref]
Ultimately, the acceptance of the existence of scarcity must be a part of any sane social analysis. In contrast to this Rousseauian ÂMarxian view of the division of labor stands both the traditional Christian view and the libertarian view of Professor Mises. Men have a natural propensity to conÂsume. If unrestrained, this tenÂdency might result in looting, destruction, and even murder.
The Need to Produce
The desire to consume must be tempered by a willingness to proÂduce, and to exchange the fruits of production on a value for value received basis. Each person then consumes only what he has earned, while extending the same right to others. One of the chief checks on menâ€™s actions is the fact of economic scarcity. In order to extract from a resisting earth the wealth that men desire, they are forced to cooperate. Their coopÂeration can be voluntary, on a free market, or it can be enforced from above by some political enÂtity.
Scarcity makes necessary an economic division of labor. Those with certain talents can best serve their own interests and societyâ€™s interests by concentrating their activities in the areas of producÂtion in which they are most effiÂcient. Such specialization is reÂquired if productivity is to be inÂcreased. If men wish to have more material goods and greater perÂsonal services, they must choose occupations in which they can beÂcome effective producers. Those who favor a free market arrangeÂment argue that each man is betÂter equipped than some remote board of supervisors to arrange his own affairs and choose his own calling according to his desires, talents, and dreams. But whether the State directs production or the demand of a free market, the speÂcialization of labor is mandatory. This specialization promotes soÂcial harmony; the division of laÂbor forces men to restrain their hostile actions against each other if they wish to have effective, proÂductive economic cooperation.
In this perspective, the division of labor promotes social unity without requiring collective uniÂformity. It acknowledges the exÂistence of human differences, geoÂgraphical differences, and scarÂcity; in doing so, it faces the world in a realistic fashion, trying to work out the best possible soluÂtion in the face of a fundamental, inescapable condition of man. In short, the cause of economic scarÂcity is not the “deformed social institutions” as the socialists and Marxists assert; it is basic to the human condition. While this does not sanction total specialization, since man is not a machine, it does demand that men acknowlÂedge the existence of reality. It does demand that the division of labor be accepted by social theÂorists as a positive social benefit.[ref]Mises, Socialism, pp. 60-62.[/ref]
A Faulty Premise
Anyone who wishes to underÂstand why the Marxian system was so totally at odds with the nineteenth century world, and why it is so completely unworkable in practice, can do no better than exÂamine Marxâ€™s attitude toward the division of labor. It becomes obÂvious why he always shied away from constructing “blueprints for the communist paradise” and conÂcentrated on lashing the capitalist framework: his view of the future was utopian. He expected man to be regenerated by the violence of the Revolution. The world beyond would be fundamentally different: there would be no scarcity, no fighting, and ultimately, no evil. The laws of that commonwealth would not be conformable with the laws that operate under bourÂgeois capitalism. Thus, for the most part, Marx remained silent about the paradise to come. He had to. There was no possible way to reconcile his hopes for the future with the reality of the world. Marx was an escapist; he wanted to flee from time, scarcity, and earthly limitations. His ecoÂnomic analysis was directed at this world, and therefore totally critical; his hopes for the future were utopian, unrealistic, and in the last analysis, religious. His scheme was a religionâ€”a religion of revolution.