The life of individuals between connection and isolation

Creato: 31 Luglio 2014 Ultima modifica: 17 Settembre 2016 Visite: 3400


An oppressive feeling of loneliness, an endemic condition of non-freedom, whose reasons seem continually to escape. This is the life of individuals nowadays. The more hedonism and narcissism establish themselves, the more individuals are celebrated as the absolute protagonists of their existence, the more this isolation results in a brutal annihilation of every possibility to be persons in the full and multiple meaning of the word. Individuals, connected among them by Capitalism in an unprecedented way for spatial extension and degree of intensity, are put in a reciprocal strangeness and hostility overwhelming them in a suffocating way. But we are not monads. We are social animals building their personality through relationships. Capital makes us isolated, brutalized, linked not as persons but as its ways of living. Communism can instead represent the dimension allowing every individual to be fulfilled as person, by means of the free association with the others.

Ilaria is a 24-year-old girl, living in a province of South Italy. We meet in a bar in the town centre, sitting at the little tables invading the opposite little square. Meanwhile, tens of indifferent people pass by us, busy with their mobiles.
“I am a university student of foreign languages”, she tells us, “and I work in a call center to support my studies”. She lights  her cigarette and entertains herself observing the smokey circles losing their shape in contact with the first colds of the year; she seems trying to make order in her thoughts to explain us her life in a few words. “I am an only child, my father works all day and I can see him just a little time. My mother is a housewife but we do not spend much time together. When I attended the secondary school”, she goes on, “I used to speak about my personal affairs only with my friends. But since I have been at university, it is different, the other girls just talk about lectures, study tours to learn English, how to be successful in their lives”.
At work it is even worse. “We are physically separated by thin walls, like in plastic boxes, and the time to have relationships with the others is too insufficient to really know each other. Furthermore, I do not care very much, for me any job is the same, as soon as I can, I will rush off”. At night, when she does not work, Ilaria meets some friends at their usual pub. “We drink something, tell nonsense just to laugh a little. Then we often spend the night to chat on Facebook, look at other people’s photos, comment on what they write”. We ask her if she feels lonely. She raises her coffee cup, rotates it slightly among her fingers staring the bottom. “Well, I don’t know ... yes, I think so”. She lays the cup and lifts her head: “but in a while I will get my degree, will go abroad, everything will change”, she smiles not very convinced.
Will anything change in Ilaria’s life? And what does this awful loneliness penetrating women and men’s lives depend on? The paradox is living this condition just while the greatest celebration of the connection is underway. Through social networks you can keep in contact with hundreds of other people living in every corner of the world, through Wikipedia you can access thousands of pages continually and freely edited by billions of people, the jeans Ilaria is wearing is the final result of the work made in about ten different countries, the mall where she bought it, teemed at least with three-thousand people. And yet this gigantic social dimension results in the greatest isolation, in a deep and distressing feeling of emptying.
The thesis we support is Marx’s one: the capitalistic society, even if it links individuals as it has never happened before in history, produces also their most radical isolation and their reciprocal indifference. It does not create nor presupposes, anyway, self-sufficient “monads”, as it may appear at first sight. On the contrary, individuals can exist only through their relationships with the others. Understanding the individuals and their relations from a historical, real point of view allows to understand the reasons of this inhuman condition of strangeness and hostility towards the other human beings. It also makes possible to recognize Communism far from a ferocious supremacy of the community on its anonymous members, but, on the contrary, the real opportunity for women and men’s personal fulfilment, as complex and irreducible, freely associated among them.

If the human figure is indifferent and hostile to us

In our small talk, Ilaria tells us in a confident and resolute tone, that she does not care at all about her job. “Any job is the same, as soon as I can, I will rush off”.
“Any job is the same” is also a threat for many workers. It means more and more a precariousness never known before in history, the nearly total interchangeability of people, the very insufficient request of competences, jobs that can last few weeks or even few days.
Bauman quotes, in his “The loneliness of the global citizen” [1], the meaningful consideration by K. J. Gergen: “It is not much necessary the self-directed individual, unable to take different models of behaviour. Such a person is limited, provincial, strict. [...] Dynamism is needed!” [2].
And in any case doing a job rather than another is something casual and nothing more. If still in peasant communities and in craftsman villages the particular job of people corresponded to their knowledge and to their same life, nowadays what does make possible this strong and widespread feeling of indifference towards a certain job?
In Capitalism the working process has profit as its only aim. The abstraction of work, work in general, is fulfilled concretely. Individuals cannot find anymore in it a source of personal fulfilment. Theirs becomes labour force at its purest form, without any possible qualification. Any possible link between personal development and work is cut down. This is the point: in the only properly human activity, in the only way individuals’ existence can express itself, it’s just there that proletarians find the most radical denial of their own humanity and of their faculties.
The personal ambitions are in permanent conflict with the so-called collective interests. The State [3] stands on the contrast between individual and collective interests, to generalize the interest to defend through violence, but since it is grounded on such antagonism, it is only an apparent community. An illusory community that crystallizes the extraneousness of such general interest with respect to the life of the single dominated people (and to some extent even of the individuals of the ruling class). For workers, Marx underlines, this form of defence of the ruling class general interest represents at once also a new chain.
It is symptomatic how much individuals find themselves perpetually in search of a community, building its surrogates often on nothing: “coat-rack-community” or “peg-community”, Bauman calls them, used to hang, temporarily and together with others, the dress of one’s own private uncomfortableness.
Thinking about this search for a public space, the Polish sociologist [4] evokes an article by the journalist Decca Aitkenhead, “These Women Have Found Their Cause, but They’re not Sure What It Is”[5]. The “cause” of West Country women, about which the article speaks, was the common Sidney Cooke hunting, “the most famous British pedophile” according to “The Guardian”.
The commentary Bauman evokes, is just on the nature of a cause, as sudden as ardent, against a person never heard of until that moment. Debra, the protest group leader, more than “her” cause, has found “a common cause: the feeling of a shared motivation”. Here it is a real “perfect cause to put together people searching  for an outburst of the anxiety accumulated over time”. The two “whys” found by Bauman deserve attention:
1) Cooke is not an abstract, indeterminate, uncatchable enemy. He has a name and a surname, a recognizable or imaginable face “unlike most threats, the more disquieting the more they are generally seen as widespread, creeping, elusive, omnipresent, vague”.
2) It represents a case of coincidence between private and public sphere: “his case is an alchemistic melting-pot in which the love for one’s own children – a daily, usual but private experience – can miraculously transubstantiate into a public solidarity show” [6].
Later on we will come back on these topics, that is the possibility to identify the enemy and the recomposition of the rift between private and social.
Bauman’s commentary is interesting: “[...] nonetheless, the only communities, that isolated people can hope to build and the administrators of public space can seriously and responsibly offer, are those imbued with fear, suspect and hatred. At a certain point, friendship and solidarity, once the most precious material to build a community, have become too fragile, too precarious or too inconsistent to serve the purpose” [7].
Therefore, in the current economic-social conditions, individuals are competing and enemies, the one against the other. We can meanwhile highlight that it is not a matter of imaginary isolation of the one who wants to escape society. It is, on the contrary, the paradoxical condition generated by Capitalism, in so far as it leads up to a historically unprecedented form of division of labour and of the ways of cooperation and sociality of human beings. Which involves a translation on the ideological level, above all around individualism, that is necessary being able to contextualize.

We are not monads

The idea that individuals can really fulfil themselves as persons grounding only on themselves is an illusion fitting this society. Unless the concept is deformed, thinking about the grotesque idea of ”personal fulfilment” of the manager’s son who follows in his father’s footsteps, this chance is a farce, for a clear reason: monad individuals simply do not exist, it is an appearance. As Marx writes they are just empty abstractions, that anyway are found in every discipline of the so-called human sciences.
From the most remote ages the individual has never had a real autonomy as a person, because he has always lived only as part of a set: the family, the group, the clan, then the chiefdoms [8] and the communities with forms of coercive power. In the archaic human aggregates, individuals could have relationships among them as members of an organic community. Elaborate aggregation ceremonies, where social elements, mind you, predominated over the magical-religious ones [9], ratified their undertaking as members. Outside the group, the relationships could not have individual characteristics. Both these sets had the form of egalitarian communities or they knew forms of non-coercive power [10], and they had instead developed, through agriculture, centralized control systems, this deprivation of any personal autonomy was a permanent feature. If in the hunter – picker communities individuals had at least the faculty to leave the group, but joining another one or allowing themselves to die in loneliness, by means of the sedentism the group stability became rigid.
The concepts of we and they, of Self and of the Other were being defined on this basis. They are poles needing a mediation, that we will find richly elaborated in the Greek knowledge, were xenos is both stranger and guest, or in the rising of the plesios in the Greek-Christian texts, a neighbour now including also the “hospes who openly declares himself not only hostis, but even inimicus, echtròs”, and even the other who will not ever be hospes [11]. It is a delicate dialectic inducing the Mediterranean civilizations to conceive the hospitality as a sacred value [12], but which has expressed the maximum of the contradiction between aggregation and division.
This conflicting relation between hospitality and repulsion involved a relationship management among the communities according to precise rituals, based on multiple practices, but always based on a strong element of communion and aggregation: the exchange, in its different effective and symbolic forms [13].

Individualism modern myths

The modern age opens up to new developments of the individual. The literary historian Ian Watt, in his “Myths of modern individualism” [14], outlines the profile of the “three Renaissance myths”: Faust by Marlowe, Don Quixote by Cervantes and Don Juan by Tirso de Molina. Three characters who, even if “very different”, embody the “definition of individualism [...] as «attitude or behaviour centred on Self on principle ...»” [15]. “All the three”, Watt goes on describing the assonances among these characters, “assume the ego contra mundum posture” [16]. But these overflowing personalities, created in a few years “between the 16th and the 17th century, as typical products of a new society” [17], have tragic destinies, in which their Renaissance individualism, by now dissonant with respect to the Counter-Reform spirit, is defeated and severely punished. Even if from the works of the three authors “a sense of revulsion for the life of the time” becomes known, it is however evident “that all the three authors could not have been able to say what ideology would have been possibly, or even only conceivably, used to replace the traditional one” [18].
In terms nearer to our age, it is only from the 18th century that something begins to change. According to A. Elliott and C. Lemert’s reconstruction [19], the concept of individualism was introduced just in 1835 by Alexis de Tocqueville [20], who defines it a new feeling disposing the citizen to isolate himself from the mass. The consideration can reach by now a qualitatively different level. So the punitive mechanisms defeating Faust, Don Juan and Don Quixote’s individualism can be sabotaged now [21]. Faust, through Goethe’s pen, becomes “the greatest literary expression of modern individualism” [22]. Don Juan, by means of several narrative devices, is now redeemed or celebrated, at least through filigree, as a hero. Don Quixote, at last, was reread as a “pure and genuine figure of the one who fights for social equality and for an ideal” [23].

Individualism contemporary paradigms

In their essay on The new individualism [24], Eliott and Lemert expose the three main contemporary theories. The two authors classify the “manipulated individualism”, the “isolated privatism” and the
“reflexive individualization”.
Here, the three classes of quoted theories seem to us interesting for the problems posed through them, but also because they allow us to stress which questions stay concealed, and then inexplicable, without a comprehension inside the critique of the political economy and of the materialist concept of history.
The first tendency (the manipulated individualism) contains in turn two sub-groups.
The former “is made up by those who maintains that public life is corrupted by the manipulation of human capabilities carried out by the trans-national firms and by the global elites.” [25].
The latter by those who attribute the birth of the social control and of the political hegemony to “a sharp contradiction inside the out-and-out global technological structures moulding  the ideological needs of individualism.” [26].
Eliott and Lemert examine on one hand the positions of the sociologist Simmel, on the other hand the Frankfurt School ones.
According to Simmel [27], individuals are freed, thanks to the “modern metropolis” and to the “monetary economy”, from the old traditional ties and from its social structures. Meanings are no more found in these last ones, but continually looked for in one’s “Self”.
Nevertheless the “city crowd” and “the alienating structures of the economic exchange” have a necessarily selfish and utilitarian profile: so people “are looking for reassurances about their independence and about their power in an immoderately indifferent and impersonal reality.” [28].
Then, in Simmel’s opinion, the weight individualism acquires in modernity is the sign of the “lack of freedom or rather than liberation” [29].
On the contrary, in Adorno, Horkeimer and Marcuse, the individual becomes an “instrument of supremacy and alienation” [30]. With its peculiar attention to the mass culture, in the Frankfurt School a strong idea of intentional integration emerges: individuals are annihilated, mass-media languages “tend to facilitate”, here Adorno is quoted, “automatic reactions and to weaken the individual resistance forces” [31]. In more recent times, Habermas has led the reflection to the modifications between private and public sphere determined by the hectic rhythms of modernization [32]: if, on the whole, the social sphere is weakened, “the use of internet and of its related interactive technology could create”, yes, some possible contributions “to the democratizing potential of cosmopolitism, too”; but it can generate “new public forms which would end by causing a deterioration of  the most authentic civic commitment and of the public political debate”, since individuals relate themselves to the “communications and to the mass culture mainly in privatized terms: isolated Selves, obsessed with media shows” [33].
The second orientation, the “isolated privatism”, is summarized by the two authors as the tendency to disable the individual commitment potentialities “to sustain interpersonal relationships and civic participation, this is because an unchecked narcissism empties out both the emotional depths of the self and the affective texture of the interpersonal communication” [34].
In the end, the orientation of the “reflexive individualization” points out the forces of globalization, which “have unleashed a new individualism” [35]. According to such a concept, the integration of individuals in the “social network” is only partial. Identities are continually in danger, insecurity dominates, the building of one’s biography is a relentless process. “Individualization is socially produced. All processes of individualization thus become political, even though it is the case that the political consequences of today’s DIY biographies are often better grasped with hindsight” [36]. Elliot and Lemert quote Ulrich Beck: “[...] decisions, possibly undecidable decisions, certainly not freely made, but forced by others and wrung out  under conditions that lead into dilemmas” [37].
Face to such a scenario, several authors propose its overcoming through the undertaking of a new logic: the gift one. In this sense, it is exemplifying the confrontation among philosophers, economists, theologians and bioethicists collected in “Oltre la società degli individui” [38], where, in this old “total social fact”, in the classic Mauss’ interpretation, the possibility to rethink the social order beyond utilitarianism is tracked, going beyond the same categories of selfishness and unselfishness. In the last years, the so-called ethics of  recognition has emerged next to the paradigm of the gift or to its enrichment.
We just give a synthetic cross section, but shelves and databases overflow with a flourishing  journalistic editing on the devastating condition of isolated individuals. Even if several works allow to read the problem with stimulating points of view, in average they reveal unable both to understand their deep roots and to track their effective historical perspectives of passing.

Why do we have to look at the methods of production in order to understand individuals

As Marx observes, it is not a coincidence that just in the bourgeois society, taking the social relationships to the greatest intensity and to a world level, individualism begins to emerge.
In fact, individuals can “isolate themselves” [41] only in society, that historically begins to configure itself just with Capitalism.
Anyhow, viewing society as a set of individuals is misleading. On the contrary, as Marx argues, society is the set of relationships existing among individuals.
And then, in order to speak about individuals, we have to widen our horizons. We do it, briefly, by making a backward step. What does distinguish human beings from the other animals? According to Marx, the fundamental difference is that only human beings produce their subsistence means. This production, which specifically characterizes human beings’ life and their species’ faculties, determines, depending on their ways, also the ways of women and men’s material and spiritual life, their relationships, the cooperation forms, in other words their existence and conscience. To escape the empty abstractions about individuals-atoms, which, at the limit, decide in a second moment to join together in a society (like in illuminist and democratic reconstructions [42]), we have so to follow this fundamental coordinate. In this path, we will find the real individuals, as concerns what they actually are and think. And so, it is possible to catch the connection between a radical change of the individual existence and the revolution transforming the economic-social system which determines it.

The nowadays’ individuals: supercooperators, super-isolated

When we talk about a connection of determination between ways of production and ways of existence, we are already talking about the links among human beings. In fact, this peculiar human activity, that is the production, is not possible in loneliness. In different forms, depending on the different ways of production, production is possible only thanks to the relationships among individuals. What they are, and how they are, depends on, is made up, just of their interacting, of their cooperating. There are no natural relations that are not social, too. Also sex, for instance, has this twofold nature. And cooperation denotes the social aspect of these relations.
The intimacy between cooperation and production/reproduction is so deep that it can be assumed as a fundamental reference in the comprehension of the human beings’ evolutive processes. Cooperating is not an exclusive peculiarity of our species, but its manners and the degree reached by it are peculiar. That is, we can see human beings as real SuperCooperators, according to Martin Nowak’s definition [43], the director of the program for the evolutionary dynamics of Harvard University. A cooperative behaviour which, as Colin Renfrew [44] maintains, expresses itself in human beings thanks to a kind of distributed, extended mind, that does not limit itself to the individual brain and neither to the single body, but develops itself only in a social way, by means of actions that Renfrew defines as “a kind of ‘relation process’ among human beings and material world” [45].
With a different standpoint, also the anthropologist Chris Knight reasons about this topic, basing on the evolutionist theory of the selfish gene [46], contested on the contrary by Nowak. According to Knight, we are not just talking of the fact that, being only members of a set, individuals are bound to the cooperation because they transfer to the group their survival chances. With such a mechanism there would be a mere cooperation because only by guaranteeing the aggregate their members’ existence is made possible. Knight, in the article “Human solidarity and the selfish gene” [47], affirms that a non-utopic concept of evolution has to consider the forms of conciliation among “any unselfishness as regards the social behaviour” and the expression of the “replicative ‘selfishness’ of the single individuals’ genes” (animals in general). His conclusion is relevant, even without entering here into the merits of the theory: the reflection about these topics considers the contemporary evolutionism as a sort of “solidarity science”. A solidarity that is an out-and-out evolutive strategy. “A priceless expression of our genes’ ‘selfishness’, through which the defence of the same genes’ replication as regards groups of individuals on parental base takes place. But, Knight highlights, also nowadays, “in a condition where we have much fewer probabilities to be related, these instincts keep on pushing us with the same strength as once. The notion of ‘brotherly solidarity’ is not totally dependent on external and social factors, such as education or propaganda. It does not need to be instilled into people against their deep nature” [48].
Obviously, our field of dissertation is not the definition of these evolutive strategies. Anyhow, we record that, at present, the interpretative hypotheses of these phenomena, though different, converge at least in their object: unselfishness, solidarity, cooperation are factual data, observable in general in the animal world, acquiring a specific level in the human species. For the features of this last, it is appropriate to underline  that we cannot talk in general about natural human species: since there has been the history, the forms of ties and cooperation among individuals are determined by the ways of production, and we will have to take them into account.
Let’s have a look at Capitalism: as regards production, we will see better later on, cooperation is expressed at the highest degree, but with specific despotic and depersonalizing forms. At a social level, the individual is placed in an isolation condition and the distortion of human relations into illusory relations among things, is, at the same way, a factor of radical annihilation of the individual, since it is uncorrelated with its relational and social foundation.
Bauman, after stressing that “in each society, solidarity (or, rather, the dense network of big or little, overlapping or crossed solidarities) has functioned as a protection and guarantee of certainty (though imperfect), injecting trust, self-assurance and the courage necessary to practice freedom and experimentation” [49], gives to Neo-Liberism the responsibility for having attacked head on such solidarity, even denying the existence of the society, as Margaret Thatcher theatrically did in 1988 [50]. But it is in the capitalistic mode of production as such that we have to look for the reasons for this contradiction.
Cooperation among individuals, since it is a productive strength, fulfills itself in different ways according to the existing modes of production: and with it the inter-personal relationships change and qualify themselves. The quality of these last defines the richness of human beings’ spiritual sphere, which in turn, therefore, is given by the mode of cooperating, that is by the same mode of production. So let’s start to look more closely at the capitalistic mode of production, to understand the reasons for individuals’ isolation, the modalities of their reciprocal relationships, the expressed contradictions.

The capitalistic mode of production and the individuals

Marx summarizes in this way the three “cardinal facts of capitalistic production”:
a) “Concentration of means of production in few hands, whereby they cease to appear as the property of the immediate labourers and turn into social production capacities [...].
b) Organisation of labour itself into social labour: through co-operation, division of labour, and the union between labour and natural sciences [...].

c) Creation of the world-market [...].” [51].
As we can see, these salient points are quite another thing than the topics of an arid discussion about political economy. All the three touch very closely women and men’s life:  so in order to understand the real condition of individuals, it is necessary to start from here.
Given the concentration of means of production in the bourgeoisie’s hands, we will hence see as the capitalistic mode of production necessarily implies a strong social feature of work, but also as the specific forms in which this process takes place and strengthens, deny to the single individuals the possibility to be complete persons. In particular, we will dwell, even if briefly, on the capitalistic form of cooperation among individuals, on the manufacturing division of labour and on the technical one of the big industry. We will see as these ones, on a by now world scale, make the social forces produced by the combination of individuals’ labour, a stranger, enemy power.
But where does the capitalistic production really spring  from? In Marx’s opinion, three conditions have to subsist [52]:
a) the use, by the same capital, of a remarkable number of workers;
b) the extension and enlargement of the working process;
c) an important quantitative dimension of the production.
The first condition (the use of a great number of proletarians) is the real “starting point”, both from the historical and conceptual point of view; it in turn shows itself depending on the following features:
a) work takes place at the same time;
b’) work takes place in the same physical place or
b”) in the same working field;
c) the same kind of goods is produced;
d) you are subordinated to the same capitalistic command.
It is easy to understand that – from the value production standpoint [53] – it is indifferent at all  that a same number of workers operates in reciprocal isolation, or whether it is concentrated under an only command. Despite this, it is necessary to emphasize that the simultaneity of work and the co-existence of workers in the same place is not at all negligible, also from the restricted but determining profit point of view.
When work takes place in these conditions, in fact, the working differences of the different single proletarians come to vanish in an average. The employed average labour-force results in a work of average social quality: this is in turn objectified work in value. The working day of an important number of workers employed simultaneously, divided by their number, gives the average social working day. And it is just through this last one that the full realization of the law of value takes place.
For capital, only the average social working day “exists”; the individual one is not measurable in respect to the product, as on the contrary it happened when a craftsman produced something finished. Being not measurable, just because it is the issue of connections and combinations, not of isolated works, the single work cannot but being calculated as share of the overall working day; a share that is exactly the average social working day, as mentioned before. This, Marx explains, takes place independently from the fact that:
a) the concerned workers operate in a strong reciprocal connection regime;
b) workers do not work connected among them, but they only have the common subordination to the same capitalist as a correlation.

The capitalistic cooperation form

So, in proposing a definition of cooperation, Marx writes:
“The working form of many people operating according to a plan one next to and together with the other, in the same production process, or in different but reciprocally connected productive processes, is called cooperation.” [54].
Then, as we can see, cooperation can realize itself by participating into an operation or more operations of the same sort, not only together, but also by participating in different stages of the process, accelerating the times of this last one. That is, the final product always results as an issue of individuals’ cooperation, even if they take part to its fulfilment through the production of different parts, in different places, but in a simultaneous overall process. For capital, this means being able to compensate the natural lack of time, making a working day of n hours not only equal, but greater than a day (n)∙(X), where X is the number of workers simultaneously operating. Greater since the workers’ cooperation operating at the same time in the same process, has a social potential with a power incomparable to the simple sum of the single works. Not only as increase of the production power but also as creation of a mass production power, a power that in abstraction is an only overall power. Of course, capital, relating individually to the labour force sellers, does not pay this imposing added value to anybody.
Cooperation demonstrates how much human beings are social animals: put in this social contact, their respective performance faculties increase, too.
Therefore, cooperation among individuals allows on the one hand to widen the spatial ties in the production processes, or also, on the other hand, to contract them, empowering the labour yield.

The division of labour among proletarians

Originally, in little human groups, the division of labour could not take place but on natural bases, both by virtue of gender and of individual features. The population increase and the production power development implied a deep change, which allowed, next to the natural division, also the establishment of a division of labour on a social basis [55].
With the division of labour, human beings, though they cooperate, find themselves divided (even if in pre-capitalistic societies, individuals were as well united by some kind of tie, from family to tribe, to the field cultivated in common, etc.).

So, the crux of the division of labour is central to understand the individuals’ condition in capitalistic society and the determination of new relations – with respect to the work and along the social and political axes – developing among each other [56]. Historically, the division of labour was a primary factor for the rising of new production powers, but at the same time it also determined a very strong impoverishment of individual faculties. Labour is made “unilateral” by it, while the need of “the owners of commodities” becomes more and more “multilateral” [57].
The capitalistic mode of production is based on a new and radical division of labour. It amounts to as a “natural and spontaneous production organism, whose threads were woven and keep on being woven behind the backs of commodity producers.” [58]. It is so extreme that no proletarian produces something finished: in order to have a finished product, a commodity, the combined work of the several “partial” [59] proletarians is necessary.
“The quantitative subdivision of the social organism of production, representing its membra disjecta [60] in the system of division of labour, is not less spontaneously casual than its qualitative subdivision. For this reason our commodity-owners find out that the same division of labour making them autonomous private producers, makes the process of social production and their relations in its scope independent from them; that the people’s reciprocal independence completes itself in a system of omnilateral material dependence of themselves” [61].

The social division of labour [62] is the condition to produce commodities, but not vice versa: in fact, there were communities that did not produce commodities, even if they had a social division of labour [63]. If it is in this sense a condition, it implies the transformation of the labour product, commodities, into money [64]. Commodities, let’s remind it briefly, are the elementary form of the capitalistic mode of production [65]. In any historical epoch, in any economical-social group, the labour product is an object of use [66], that is a product with its own utility [67]. It becomes a commodity only at a certain stage of the historical development [68], in which the production of a value of social use is possible, granting  the transfer of commodities to a third person through the exchange [69].

The development of the manufacturing division of labour is a crucial historical passage [70].
The social nature of labour acquires unprecedented proportions, producing at the same time a strong isolation of workers, their reciprocal indifference, but also their cooperation on an unknown scale.
In reasoning about the division of labour in a workshop and on a social level, Marx notes: “in spite of the numerous analogies and links connecting them, the division of labour in the interior of a society, and that in the interior of a workshop, they differ not only in degree, but also in kind” [71].
In fact, in a workshop only the combination of all the partial workers operating together produces commodities, under the capitalistic despotism, which represents the production level (we will get back soon to this aspect): “The division of labour within the workshop implies the undisputed authority of the capitalist over men, that are but parts of a mechanism that belongs to him” (this is a peculiar creation of the capitalistic mode of production) [72]; and the division of labour in society “is brought about by the purchase and sale of the products of different branches of industry” [73]; rather than their concentration, it “implies their dispersion among many independent producers of commodities” [74]. It opposes “independent commodity-producers, who acknowledge no other authority but that of competition, of the coercion exerted by the pressure of their mutual interests; just as in the animal kingdom, the bellum omnium contra omnes more or less preserves the conditions of existence of every species” [75].
Labourers, evidently, do not cooperate willingly, but only because they are simultaneously employed by capital. Cooperation makes them a general, “global body of production” [76], but their communion, their bonds, do not lie exactly in their common will, they are external to them, in capital.
Individuals who, “as independent people” [77] put up their labour force for sale, do it by relating capital on their own. Only at work, they cooperate with other workers, that is only when they are not anymore “independent people”, when “they already have ended to belong to themselves” [78].
The powerful rising contradiction is that the production force springing from combined labour of workers, reduced to “a particular way of being of capital”, appears as the production force of capital.

Plan, aims and direction

Cooperation, the modern division of labour, machineries, are factors giving a particular nature to the command of capital on labour.
The authority employed by the capitalist knows an evolution because of cooperation. It does not suffice anymore to be the formal consequence of employing a worker. At this level, command becomes an essential element of the production effective fulfilment.
It is impossible that any labour carried out jointly, that is with a relevant number of other people, can take place without any direction. Direction cannot be a part of the “movement of the global production body” [80], but it is necessary a position of coordination distinct “from the movement of its autonomous organs” [81].
Such a coordination does not necessarily have to be a despotic authority. Marx in “Capital” proposes the example of a single violin player who is his own conductor and of an orchestra which requires a separate one. Colin Renfrew, in his already quoted “Prehistory”, describes how “egalitarian” societies, in which there are no leading positions and command forms, have been able to build great works, evident issue of a “group action” that “in most cases acquires the shape of collective labour” [82]. It was a matter of a labour in which, though obviously coordinated, no individual or social group exercised despotism on the others [83]. That is, coordination did not identify with a command. Examples are several: from the irrigation projects in Burma, to megaliths in north-western Europe, to the majestic henge [84] in Britain, and also to the Chaco Canyon structures in Northern America, or to the ones on the Peruvian coast [85]. They are cooperation forms which, quoting Marx’s words, are founded “on the one hand on the common property of the production conditions, on the other on the immature development of man individually, who has not yet severed the umbilical cord that unites him with his fellowmen in a primitive tribal community, like a bee which does not separate from its hive” [86].
Quoting R. Jones [87], Marx describes the colossal effect “of simple co-operation in the gigantic structures of the ancient Asiatics, Egyptians, Etruscans,& c.” [88]. It was the power held by kings and pharaohs that allowed them to force great numbers of labourers, whose efforts were “concentrated”, to build monumental structures. From the ancient classist societies to the medieval ones, to the colonial areas, the basis of such a cooperation was slavery, or anyway direct relations of subordination between lord and slave.
In modern society, this power “has been transferred to the capitalist” [89], single or “combined” (like in Joint-Stock Companies). The capitalistic society lacks the two bases of cooperation peculiar to the egalitarian societies: the common property of the production conditions, which, on the contrary, are concentrated in the leading class’ few hands, and the organic bond between individual and community. The basis of slavery is lacking, too:  the proletarian sells freely his labour-power to the capitalist. Today, the workers’ freedom lies in this. After all, it is true that the individual is a modern creature of Capitalism, but “being an individual”, Bauman also observes, “does not mean necessarily being free. The form of individuality proposed in the late modern or post-modern society, and in truth the most common form of this kind, the ‘privatized’ individuality denotes, essentially, the condition of ‘non-freedom’” [90]. Non-freedom of individuals does not mean necessarily, in turn, the clear distinction of oppression. In every routine, Bauman goes on, there is oppression, but this does not result in its intelligibility: in non-freedom there is an element of ambivalence, which facilitates subordination. It enters everyday life, takes the form of something natural: its conscience cannot spring from the interior of relations of production, the party becomes historically crucial.
Let’s come to the point of the plan. It is by now evident that cooperation has taken, and can take, different forms according to the different modes of production. In the current form, the direction of the plan is a function of capital.
It is intuitive that every plan is oriented by an aim. It is an important point, because the possibility to identify an aim and to plan the ways to reach it, is a human peculiarity. The presence of a plan distinguishes labour in the form belonging only to human beings. “A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality” [91]. That is, the result is ideally prefigured by man, and, as an aim, “fulfills a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi”, and to which he “must subordinate his will” [92]. This subordination to the plan in view of the purpose has to be the stronger the more labour is not gratifying in itself.
But the bourgeois degeneration of this human peculiarity is by now evident. Today the aim can only be the greatest self-valorisation of capital, not certainly purposes felt by workers as their own. “Self-valorisation of capital” is equivalent to say “to extract the greatest possible amount of surplus-value, and consequently to exploit labour-power to the greatest possible extent” [93] by the capitalist. That is, the purpose is not only  irrelevant to those who fulfill it, but it is also clearly hostile to them, resulting in their same exploitation! Here it is the “two-fold nature of the process” which is so directed: “on the one hand, [it] is a social process for producing use-values, on the other, a process for creating surplus-value” [94].
Today, therefore, the direction, that we have defined function of capital, qualifies itself  also as “a function of the exploitation of a social labour-process” [95].
Schematizing, Marx’s summary about the capitalistic direction is the following:
a) its form is despotic;
b) its content is two-fold:
1. it is ideally a plan,
2. it is practically an authority, that is “the powerful will of another” [96].
So, authority as the powerful will of another; a supremacy explicating itself by employing an army of “supervisors and managers” [97], of overlookers and foremen.

Connection and isolation after the establishment of big industry

The development of the use of machinery, of telecommunications and, then, of micro-electronics, has led to the last decades’ trend, in particular in Western countries, to the reduction of the concentration of great amounts of workmen in the same productive plants. It does not express a lower level of connection but the exact contrary, just thanks to the global forms of technical division of labour and to the mechanization and computerization processes of the production processes [99]. “The very modern production forms employing station networks”, for instance Bordiga wrote, “such as hydroelectric plants, communications, radio, television, give more and more a unique operative discipline to workers staggered in small groups at enormous distances. The combined labour stays, in wider and more wonderful twines, and the autonomous production disappears more and more” [100].
So let’s see what the diffusion of big industry on world scale implies in respect to cooperation and division of labour.
Because of the big industry the figure of the worker employing an instrument fails, now the machinery (meant by now in a wider sense than at Marx’s times) is the characteristic element, that subordinates workers, making them its appendixes.
In order to grasp the degree of novelty determined by the use of machinery, we consider worthwhile following the distinction made by Marx between cooperation among many machineries and the system of machinery. Machinery put in cooperation replaces effectively the old craftwork in the production of the single object. We have cooperation of homogenous machinery. A system of machinery produces instead an object by means of a series of different but integrated working processes. That is, it is a combination of  heterogeneous machinery. While in manufacture we have found a combination of partial workers, in the factory the combination refers to partial machinery. The subjective principle of the manufacturing division of labour fails: in the system of machinery the production organism becomes objective. Besides, in the manufacturing division of labour, their isolation was the peculiarity of the different working processes, on the contrary, in modern industry, their continuity takes over as a specific characteristic.
The system of machinery is an only mechanical monster. Communication, transports, material and digital connections, pushed by big industry, assume unprecedented forms. The social dimension explodes: it is not possible that the system of machinery works if it is not managed by a socialized and total labour. Therefore, cooperation, at this stage, is determined by the nature of machinery itself. The relationships between capitalists and labourers lose even the semblances of relationships among free people. Now capital can take his entire life away from the labourer, by extending his working time, by intensifying it in an exponential way.
The use of machinery, with its modern evolutions, allows to reduce even more strongly, if not effectively to abolish, the necessity of competences: it is possible to employ, in every corner of the world, children, men, women, of any kind, education and experience. Any particular abilities are no more needed, since all the necessary ones are in the machinery itself. So the manufacturing division of labour is suppressed, even though some traces can remain; workers, formerly divided in a hierarchy according to their specialization, tend now to levelling towards the status of simple machinery operators.
The division of labour, at this stage, configures then in a different way. It only consists of the distribution of workmen to the machinery and in the factory departments. The breakdown internal to the group of labourers gets back to simplicity, on the one hand it is sufficient a small unit of control, on the other the workers employed at the machinery with their simple manual labourers. The former division of labour is in this way overtaken by a merely technical one.
Since it does not depend anymore on the competence of the single labourer, but it starts directly from the machinery, the working process goes on even if the single labourers are continually moved from a function to another, or if they stop working.
Applied sciences, natural forces and mass social labour, Marx explains, become ghosts taking a bodily form in the robot used in a capitalistic way [101]. All this forces become the power of the capitalist, that appears as unmeasurable, before which the single worker feels as an atom in the universe. He sees himself submitted to objective laws, as an insignificant particle of an overpowering totality. The discipline of factory is, not by chance, compared by Marx to the barracks one, with its overlookers, its punishments, its blind autocracy.

A power with totalitarian and elusive semblances

Capitalism, therefore, giving to power an unheard form of non-involvement and objectification, is historically the most oppressive social regime of the individual as such, even if it produces men and women who can isolate themselves, with all the superstructures produced by it. The community does not disappear: it changes its form, the one of money and of abstract labour imposes [102]. Relating through the exchange, then, individuals do it only as owners, commodity representatives: these masks, Marx explains, are the embodiment of economic relations reflected in juridical relations (to be “private owners”). Here we have a clear example of how the modes of production determine our entire life, the relationships linking us to each other, or separating us from them. The natural instinct is replaced by the “laws of the nature of commodity”. Every relationship is adapted to this masked clash.
Summing up, the capitalistic society makes impossible for workers:
a) the overcoming of their reciprocal concurrence;
b) a voluntary form of cooperation;
c) the intelligence itself of the production process;
d) the care of production forces according to a plan;
e) their free omnilateral expression as persons;
f) their authentic relatedness.
Through the objectification of the power of social labour in extraneous power, through the overcoming of the formal subordination of the dominated to a dominating, the individual selling labour force (he succeeds or not), finds himself before an impersonal domination, going beyond the conflicting relationship with the company ownership. 
The appearance of power is transfigured into an oppressive and pervasive office with undefined outlines and totalitarian features. That immediate substance of the enemy, which at the beginning we have seen so efficaciously represented, for instance, by Sidney Cooke, eludes.
Instead, the power of capital builds the illusion to stand up as the Kafkaesque Castle, deactivating any contrasts between king and subjects, between power and dominated [104]. But the contradictions on which his throne lays, threaten, historically, both its semblances and order. “The relations of personal dependence (entirely spontaneous at the outset) are the first social forms”, Marx writes in retracing a wide historical period, “in which human production capacity develops only to a slight extent and at isolated points. Personal independence founded on objective dependence is the second great form, in which a system of general social metabolism, of universal relations, of all-round needs and universal capacities is formed for the first time. Free individuality, based on the universal development of individuals and on their subordination of their communal, social productivity as their social wealth, is the third stage. The second creates the conditions for the third.” [105]. If there will be a communist revolution, it will be possible to rule together these social forces in an aware and free way, to work little, with common means of production, in order to satisfy everyone’s needs; the fulfillment of individuals as persons will be possible. Otherwise, the possible next scenario is that of a gloomy future of degradation and annihilation, of material and spiritual miseries, of wars and conflicts, which will push workers to fight the one against the other, day after day, in order to dispute a wage even nearer and nearer to the “minimum limit” of the labour force value [106].


[1] Zygmunt Bauman, La solitudine del cittadino globale [1999], Feltrinelli, Milano 2008.
[2] Ib., p. 29; cf. K. J. Gergen, The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life, Basic Books, New York 1991, p. 150.
[3] Cf. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, L’ideologia tedesca [1846], Editori Riuniti, Roma 1993.
[4] Zygmunt Bauman, La solitudine del cittadino globale, op. cit.
[5] Decca Aitkenhead, «These Women Have Found Their Cause, but They’re not Sure What It Is», The Guardian, 24th April 1998.
[6] Zygmunt Bauman, La solitudine del cittadino globale, op. cit., pp. 16-17.
[7] Ib., p. 22.
[8] Non-statal communities, but with a chief, however destitute of faculties ascribable to command and coercion: cf. Francesca Giusti, I primi Stati, Donzelli, Roma 2002.
[9] Cf. Arnold von Gennep, I riti di passaggio [1909], Bollati Boringhieri, Torino 2012, p. 86.
[10] Pierre Clastres, La società contro lo Stato [1974], Ombre Corte, Verona 2003.
[11] Massimo Cacciari, in Enzo Bianchi, Massimo Cacciari, Ama il prossimo tuo, Il Mulino, Bologna 2011, pp. 88-89.
[12] Cf. Donatella Puglia, L’ospitalità è un mito? Un cammino tra i racconti del Mediterraneo e oltre, Il Melangolo, Genova 2010.
[13] Arnold von Gennep, I riti di passaggio [1909], Bollati Boringhieri, Torino 2012, p. 23; cf. Marcel Mauss, Saggio sul dono. Forme e motivo dello scambio nelle società arcaiche, [1923], Einaudi, Torino 2002.
[14] Cf. Ian Watt, Miti dell’individualismo moderno [1996], Donzelli, Roma 2007.
[15] Ib., p. 106.
[16] Ib., p. 107.
[17]Ib., p. VII.
[18] Ib., pp. 114-115.
[19] Anthony Eliott, Charles Lemert, Il nuovo individualismo. I costi emozionale della globalizzazione [2006], Einaudi, Torino 2007.
[20] Alexis de Tocqueville, La democrazia in America [1835], BUR, Milano 1999.
[21] Ian Watt, Miti dell’individualismo moderno, op. cit., p. 190.
[22] Ib., p. 178.
[23] Ib., p. 196.
[24] Anthony Eliott, Charles Lemert, Il nuovo individualismo. I costi emozionale della globalizzazione, op. cit.
[25] Ib., p. 49.
[26] Ibidem.
[27] Cf. Georg Simmel, I problemi fondamentali della sociologia [1917], Feltrinelli, Milano 1983.
[28] Anthony Eliott, Charles Lemert, Il nuovo individualismo. I costi emozionale della globalizzazione, op. cit., p. 50.
[29] Ibidem.
[30] Ibidem.
[31] Ib., p. 51.
[32] Ib., p. 52.
[33] Ib., p. 53.
[34] Ib., p. 56.
[35] Ib., p. 62.
[36] Ib., p. 66.
[37] Ibidem.
[38] Cf. Francesca Brezzi, Maria Teresa Russo (edited by), Oltre la società degli individui, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino 2011.
[39] Cf. Marcel Mauss, Saggio sul dono. Forme e motivo dello scambio nelle società arcaiche, op. cit.
[40] Cf. the monographic volume «Riconoscimento Misconoscimento», Postfilosofie. Rivista di pratica filosofica e di scienze umane, Anno I n. 1, Cacucci Editore, Bari 2002.
[41] Karl Marx, Gründrisse. Lineamenti fondamentali della critica dell’economia politica [1857-1858], Vol. I, PGreco edizioni, Milano 2012, p. 6.
[42] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Il Contratto Sociale [1762], Einaudi, Torino 2002.
[43] Martin Nowak, Supercooperatori. Altruismo ed evoluzione: perché abbiamo bisogno l’uno dell’altro [2011], Codice Edizioni, Torino 2012.
[44] Colin Renfrew, Preistoria. L’alba della mente umana [2007], Einaudi, Torino 2011.
[45] Ib., p. 129.
[46] Richard Dawkins, Il gene egoista [1976], Mondadori, Milano 1995.
[47] Translated in Italian and published by the International Communist Current in, as a contribution to the debate that the ICC is developing about these topics, apart from the degree  of particular sharing.
[49] Zygmunt Bauman, La solitudine del cittadino globale, op. cit., p. 37.
[50] Cf. Woman’s Owner, 31st October 1988.
[51] Karl Marx, Il Capitale. Critica dell’economia politica [1867], Volume I, Utet, Torino 2009, p. 129.
[52] Cf. Ib., § XII.
[53] Cf. Karl Marx, Il Capitale, op.cit.
[54] Ib., p. 449.
[55] Cf. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, L’Ideologia tedesca, op. cit.
[56] Ibidem.
[57] Karl Marx, Il Capitale, Volume I, op. cit., p. 189.
[58] Ibidem.
[59] Cf. Ib., § XII.
[60] ‘Membra disjecta’, from Horace, Saturae, I, n. 4.
[61]  Karl Marx, Il Capitale, Volume I, op. cit., pp. 190 -191.
[62] “…that is to say an ever growing differentiation of the articles which are produced in the form of
commodities by a definite capitalist, ever greater division of complementary processes of production into independent processes”(Karl Marx, Il Capitale, Volume I, op. cit., p. 59).

[63] Karl Marx, Il Capitale, Volume I, op. cit., p. 115.
[64] Ib., p. 191.
[65] Ib., § I.
[66] Ib., p. 138.
[67] Ib., pp. 108-110.
[68] Ib., p. 138.
[69] Ib., p. 114.
[70] We refer to Ib., § XII.
[71] Ib., p. 483.
[72] Ib., p. 489.
[73] Ib., p. 484.
[74] Ibidem.
[75] Ib., p. 485.
[76] Ibidem.
[77] Ib., p. 458.
[78] Ib., p. 459. Even if they get into reciprocal connection in their combined work, workers do not form, thanks to this union, in fact, even a class. Their reciprocal hostility, the more and more ruthless competition, is not suppressed but even increased by this form of power. Individuals, so Marx and Engels in German Ideology, form a class only in so far as they are associated, and so united, by the clash against their antagonist class. But the class, at the same time, acquires autonomy against individuals, subsuming them under itself, determines their living conditions, delimits their spaces of personal development.
[79] Ibidem.
[80] Ib., p. 456.
[81] Ibidem.
[82] Colin Renfrew, Preistoria, op. cit., p. 159.
[83] “Undoubtedly a managerial organization was necessary but it was not, however, concentrated in a single authority to which a social dominant position was granted […] (Ib., p. 161).
[84] “The henge is a prehistoric architectural structure, having an almost circular or oval shape, built on a wide level area, even 100 meters in diameter, generally enclosed in a moat with an external terreplain” (Ib., p. 160, translator’s note Claudia Matthiae).
[85] Ib., pp. 160-161.
[86] Karl Marx, Il Capitale, Volume I, op. cit., p. 460.
[87] R. Jones, Text-book of Lectures, pp. 77-78, in Karl Marx, Il Capitale, Volume I, op. cit., p. 459.
[88] Karl Marx, Il Capitale, Volume I, op. cit., p. 459.
[89] Ibidem.
[90] Zygmunt Bauman, La solitudine del cittadino globale, op. cit., p. 69.
[91] Karl Marx, Il Capitale, Volume I, op. cit., p. 274.
[92] Ibidem.
[93] Ib., p. 456.
[94] Ib., p. 457.
[95] Ib., p. 456.
[96] Ib., p. 457.
[97] Ibidem.
[98] Karl Marx, Il Capitale, Volume I, op. cit., § XII.
[99] Cf. Antonio Noviello, «La microelettronica nei processi produttivi e il degrado del lavoro telematico», in this same magazine.
[100] Amedeo Bordiga, «Spazio contro cemento», Il programma comunista n. 1, 8-24th January 1953.
[101] Cf. Giorgio Paolucci, «Gli uomini, le macchine e il capitale», DemmeD’. Problemi del socialismo nel XXI secolo n. 1, April 2010.
[102] Cf. Massimiliano Tomba, «Concetto di comunità in Marx. Note sulla traduzione di un termine», Italian translation of the report «Les ambiguïtés de la traduction de Gemeinwesen en italien», for the convention Traduire et diffuser les textes de Karl Marx et Friedrich Engels : approches internationales et historiques, 28th May 2008, Université de Bourgogne (Dijon).
[103] Karl Marx, Il Capitale, Volume I, op. cit., § II. Cf. also Luca Basso, Agire in comune. Antropologia e politica nell’ultimo Marx, Ombre Corte, Verona 2012.
[104] Massimo Cacciari, Hamletica, Adelphi, Milano 2009, p. 69.
[105] Karl Marx, Gründrisse. Lineamenti fondamentali della critica dell’economia politica, Vol. I, op. cit., p. 89.
[106] Cf. Karl Marx, Salario, prezzo e profitto [1865], Editori Riuniti, Roma 1988, pp. 70-75.