The Alienation of Labor in the Context of Late Capitalism: Between Universality and Virtuosity
This article provides a critical analysis of the doctrine of “immaterial labor” in the context of the classic Marxist problem of alienation. Today, the concept of alienation — put forward in an idealistic form by Hegel and interpreted materialistically by Marx as an expression of the process of the alienation of labor — is undergoing a renewed interpretation. One rendering is the doctrine of “immaterial labor,” represented by the works of modern Marxist theorists, such as Paolo Virno, André Gorz, Maurizio Lazzarato, Antonio Negri, and Michael Hardt. A further response stands out among earlier approaches to the solution of this problem: that of the mid-twentieth-century Russian theorist Evald Ilyenkov, who linked the overcoming of alienation to the universalization of man. A similar logic can be traced in the doctrine of “immaterial labor,” which, according to its authors, is based on an objective trend in the development of production and labor relations under late capitalism. In these new conditions, it is assumed that the production of information and communication is privileged and that this, against the backdrop of a diminishing of the physical and material dimensions of the labor process, vests contemporary labor with “virtuosity,” brings it closer to practices of creative and political action, and promotes universalization. Theorists of immaterial labor deploy two models of this doctrine, one economic and one political, which each emphasize different aspects of this phenomenon and set forth different tasks. This article proposes a conceptualization of the doctrine of immaterial labor as an expression of the “prophetic” function (Graeber) of modern Marxist theory — a new way of thinking about the problem of alienation, which produces its own, potentially utopian, solutions.
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