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Marx's concept of labor

Christopher Joseph Mulvaney, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This work examines Habermas' claim that Marx's theory is latently objectivistic due to a restrictive, instrumental understanding of the concept of labor. In this interpretation, Marx's work is a form of positivism and scientistic in epistemological orientation. A related claim is that as a result of the above Marx's theory lacks a normative foundation adequate to support its claim of critique. An even further expansion of the claim, which makes clear its political dimension, is that this series of misconceptions on Marx's part lie at the root of the subsequent development of a technocratic variety of social theory embodied in the bureaucratic centralist Countries of Eastern Europe. Ultimately, Habermas' work entails a fundamental misunderstanding of Marx's critique of capitalism and the structure of Marx's thought. It is this failure to understand adequately the structure of Marx's theory that makes possible Habermas' reading of Marx. This work argues that Marx's theory is doubly bisected, first by the distinction between appearance and reality, and second, by a distinction between the metatheoretical and historical levels of analysis. In conclusion, it is argued that although Habermas' interpretation of Marx is inadequate, both Marx and Habermas share a project that invites subjects to conceive of social relations free of the distortions of power, deception and self-deception on Habermas' part, and exploitation and alienation on Marx's part.

Subject Area

Political science

Recommended Citation

Mulvaney, Christopher Joseph, "Marx's concept of labor" (1990). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9110191.