Technology and Jobs of the Future: The View from Karl Marx

Charles Cottle —


Reputable sources report that advances in technology now take more jobs from American workers than China. In the past, our educational system has confronted the challenge of technological change by educating workers in new skills. That tactic may be less effective in the future as we face new developments in artificial intelligence. The video below is a discussion of these issues using a few insights from Karl Marx, the eminent nineteenth century economist and social theorist who is claimed by many to be the “father” of modern socialism.

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Technology and Jobs of the
Future: The View from Karl Marx

About Charles Cottle (18 Articles)
I'm retired after teaching political theory and social science research methods for 35 years at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. I'm interested in lots of things - mainly social issues, photography, and politics.

2 Comments on Technology and Jobs of the Future: The View from Karl Marx

  1. scepanskijc // June 21, 2019 at 11:25 am // Reply

    After viewing this video, I did a search on “Marx automation” and found this commentary:
    Marx on automated industry 1/8/2014 http://www.globallearning-cuba.com/blog-umlthe-view-from-the-southuml/marx-on-automated-industry

    … In [Marx’s] 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. …
    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 [machines and robots for] human workers. … Thus, for Marx, the industrial factory inexorably evolves toward automated industry.
    … 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. … 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. …
    From the working class point of view … the truly emancipatory implications of automation can be grasped. … the working class must discern its interest in the full emancipatory implications of automated industry. And … the working class must … establish a new type of society on a foundation of automated industry.

    It made me think of some of the reading I have been doing lately on the original progressive (Progressive) movement, following the U.S. Civil War, the “Gilded Age,” the age of industrialization in U.S. history. Along with with that reading, on the recommendation of a conservative friend of mine, I have been watching the free online lectures from Hillsdale College, in which Hillsdale lecturers relate their views on how progressive theorists and activists — Woodrow Wilson, Louis Brandeis, et al. — denied the Constitution and Declaration of Independence and the sacred ideals of the Founders. It seems to me that the transformation of industry that we expect from automation-computerization-globalization-robotization (is that a word?) might be an opportunity to elevate our notions of freedom and liberty from the more simplistic idea of freedom from government established by the Founders, upward into the realms of Wilson’s new freedom and Franklin Roosevelt’s four freedoms. The big question, I think, is whether or not Marx’s working class will seize the opportunity to explore the better characteristics of human nature or squander them on frivolous pastimes. On the other hand, who am I to judge?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi. I’m sorry it has taken so long to get back to your comment. You are quite right that Marx was optimistic about the future society and its benefits for human development. Michael Harrington, the famous American socialist scholar, has also predicted that a socialist society would liberate us to become more fully human than we can possibly be in a capitalist society. Of course, the relations of production would have to be quite different from what they are now.

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