马克思的劳动分工理论解读 Interpretation of Smith and Marx’s Theory on the Division of Labor
Abstract: Adam Smith and Karl Marx share the same opinion in the argument of the main incentive to economic growth by believing that the answer should be the division of labor. However, the theories of Adam Smith and Karl Marx contradict with each other in some issues, which include the cause and the division of labor and the role it plays in economics. Smith believes that the division of labor is caused by the commutation of commodities and is beneficial to all members of the society. Contrastingly, Marx argues that the division of labor is the prerequisite for commutation of commodities, and the division of labor will damage the interest of workmen.
Key Words: Adam Smith; Karl Marx; the division of labor; labor productivity
The major spur to economic growth is a problem which generations of economists have endeavored to explore. Adam Smith and Karl Marx believe that the main incentive to economic growth lies in the division of labor. Both the two great economists have taken a lot of studies on the division of labor. However, though both Smith and Marx agree on the positive effect of labor division on labor productivity, there are many contradicting parts between their separate theories in respect to the role and the cause of the division of labor.
Smith keeps the opinion that the division of labor plays a critical and positive role in the economic field and brings universal opulence to all ranks of the people. It is the major source of productivity improvements and the essential force to promote the economic growth. Smith's theory about the division of labor, on which almost all his studies on economics are based, is presented in the first three chapters his master piece, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. In the first sentence of the first chapter, Adam smith says, "The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labor, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is anywhere directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labor." (Adam, 2001:5)
To support that idea, he provides a famous example in the first chapter of Book One, the case of needle manufacturing. The sharp rise in productivity boosted by the division of labor is very impressing. Through observing the application of the division of labor in workshops, Adam smith has studied the role the division of labor plays in production. He finds that the division of labor mainly promotes the economic growth through three ways: increasing the dexterity of each workman; saving the time for passing a part from one workman to another; and the application of machines. With the development of productivity, the total amount of consumption goods will meet a swift increase, which can benefit all members of the society, as people will exchange their products and concentrate on producing what they are with more dexterity than others. Therefore, Smith claims that "a general plenty will diffuse it through all the different ranks of the society." (Adam, 2001:7) This assertion of Adam Smith has been attacked by many economists of later generations. They argue that, with unfair redistribution, the deepening of the division of labor will result in a tragic situation where the poor will be poorer and the rich richer. Among those economists, one of the most famous is Karl Marx.
Though Karl Marx, as Adam smith does, acknowledges the positive role the division of labor plays in the economic growth and productivity improvements, he claims that the division of labor has widened the gap between the rich and the poor. Accordingly, the higher level the division is, the severer the workmen will be squeezed and, therefore, the fiercer the confrontation between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat can be. Instead of studying the role that the division of labor plays in a specific economic field, the "Manufaktur" , Karl Marx studies that with a macroscopic view. Proceeding from the social essence of the division of labor, Karl Marx has highly valued the positive position of the division of labor by saying that "all developments of productivity can be attributed to the social division of labor". (Karl, 2004:97) He believes that the growth of an industry is closely related to the developments of other industries. Suppose there are three factories: A, B, and the products of A are the materials of B. When there is social division of labor, A can concentrate on producing a single product which can work as the material of B. Concentration on one single product will lead to the rise of production, and then the down fall of the price of good. Therefore, B can purchase its materials with a lower price than before, which adds positive impact to its development.
Although Karl Marx values high of the division of labor, he does not agree with Adam Smith in its positive effect on people from all ranks of the society. On the contrary, Marx believes that the situation of the proletariat will deteriorate with the progressing of the division of labor. The division of labor can be viewed as a catalyst for the growth of capitalism. It has boosted the development of the "Manufaktur" and then transformed craft workshops to modern factories, with more and more specialized jobs being provided to workers. Increasing the specialization can lead to workers with poorer overall skills. They are more and more specialized and their works repetitive. Then workers become appendages of the machine. "Hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires to maintenance." As the division of labor encourages the application of machines . "Machinery obliterates all distinctions of labor, and nearly everywhere reduces wages to the same low level."
In respect to the cause of the division of labor, the theories of Adam Smith and Karl Marx are rather contradicting with than different between each other. To be specific, the dispute between Smith and Marx is centered on the relation between the division of labor and the commutation of commodities: whether or not the division of labor is caused by the commutation of commodities.
Adam Smith insists that the division of labor is caused by the commutation of commodities in essence. To be more specific, the division of labor is driven by a human propensity, namely, "the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another". (Adam, 2001:9) In another word, he is convinced that the division of labor is driven by and based on the commutation of commodities. There is a concept deep rooted in people's mind that one should produce items over which he or she has comparative advantage. That is the reason why "a tailor does not attempt to make his won shoes, but buys them of the shoemakers."Further more, that is why human beings have the unique propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another. Adam Smith has adopted the example of a tribe of hunters to explain the cause of the division of labor: a particular person makes bows with more readiness and dexterity than any other people finds that the total amount of cattle that he can exchange his bows for is more than the number he himself can catch in the field; then the making of bows grows to be his chief business. (Adam, 2001:10) Several decades later, a reputed economist, David Ricardo, works out a new theory of comparative advantage to explain why it is a part of human's instinct to trade. That theory further supports Smith's idea that the division of labor is triggered by man's propensity to commutate commodities.
On this issue, Karl Marx holds an opinion completely opposite to that of Adam Smith. Marx argues that it is the division of labor that makes the commutation of commodities possible. So the point is weak that the commutation of commodities causes the advent of the division of labor. Marx believes that the division of labor is a natural phenomenon. Marx's most important theoretical contribution is his sharp distinction between the social division and the technical or economic division of labor. When writing about the social division, Karl Marx emphasizes on the idea that the primitive division of labor lies in sex, based on the physical differences between the male and the female. Similarly, works have been divided into different jobs that suit the male and the female separately. For example, works like hunting, battling and making tools are taken by the male members of tribes because of their physical strengths. Similarly, works like cooking, tailing, nourishing children are taken by the female.
According to Karl Marx, the commutation of commodities is the result of the division of labor, instead of the cause. He makes exquisite analysis about the division of labor in his book, Capital. He says that at the early stage of civilization, because of the limited traffic condition, the materials available to people are unique to different tribes. Therefore, they have different life style and produce different products. These differences in products enable and motivate people of different tribes to exchange their products with each other. (Karl, 2004:390)
The relation between the division of labor and the commutation of commodities is confusing, to a certain stand. At the first glance readers may think that the opinions of Adam Smith and Karl Marx are resilient to each other. When reading them for the second time, he or she may realize that they proceed from totally different points. Adam smith begins with human nature. He believes that the division of labor is spurred by "the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another", which means that the intentions to trade of exchange products comes first, then come the behaviors of products exchange. Finally, thatleads to the division of labor. It can be explained by a diagram:
Marx starts by the natural division which is based on the physical differences between the male and the female. Then he states the economic division between tribes. It can also be explained by a diagram:
As a conclusion, Adam Smith believes that the division of labor is caused by the commutation of commodities and beneficial to all members of the society. Contrastingly, Marx argues that the division of labor is the prerequisite for commutation of commodities, and the division of labor will damage the interest of workmen. As mentioned before, Smith and Marx take different ways to study. Smith understands the division of labor from a way of microeconomic by emphasizing on the impact of the division of labor on the "Manufakatur". Marx studies it in a way of macroeconomic, emphasizing on the division of labor's effect on the whole society.
Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Oxford: www.dxlwwang.com/essay/
Oxford Paperbacks, 2001
Karl Marx, Capital, London: Pluto Press, 2004