Herbert Marcuse on the Concept of Labor



“Hegel conceived of labor as the doing [das Tun] (not activity [Tätigkeit]…) in which “the pure being-for-iteslf of consciousness… steps outside of itself into the element of permanence”; in this element consciousness “comes to itself” by giving itself to the object of labor as a “substance.” Lorenz von Stein says: “Labor is … in every way the actualization of one’s infinite determinations through the self-positing of the individual personality,” in which the personality itself “makes the content of the external world its own and in this way forces the world to become a part of its own internal world.” In the context of his investigation concerning the new founding of political economy, Marx takes up the Hegelian concept of labor with all its essential characteristics: “Labor is the becoming-for-itself of man within externalization [Entäusserung] or as externalized man”; it is the “self-creating or self-objectifying act of man.” Of course, in contrast to the concrete analyses of the “labor processes” in Capital, this is only an “abstract” determination of labor, that is in no way sufficient for economic theory. But it remains the foundation for all concrete concepts of labor in Marx and is explicitly operative in Capital: “As the creator of use-values, as useful labor, labor is therefore a condition of human existence independent of all social forms; it is eternal natural necessity that mediates the material exchange between man and nature, and thus human life.” Labor as “mediation,” “objectification,” transition from the “form of unrest” into the “form of being,” and so on — all these are philosophical moments taken over from Hegel’s concept of labor. 

… [for Hegel] the concept of labor… appears as a fundamental event [Grundgeschehen] of human existence, as an abiding event that constantly and continually spans the whole of man’s being and at the same involving even man’s “world.” Here labor is precisely not a human “activity”… rather, labor is that in which every single activity is founded and to which they again return: a doing [Tun]. And it is precisely the doing of human beings as the mode of one’s being in the world: it is that through which one becomes “for itself” what one is, comes to one’s self, acquires the form of one’s being-there [Da-Seins], winning one’s “permanence” and at the same time making the world “one’s own.” Labor here is not determined through the kind of its objects, nor through its goal, content, result, etc., but through what happens to the human existence in Labor.”


Herbert Marcuse, “On the Philosophical Foundation of the Concept of Labor in Economics”, Telos 1973, no. 16: 9-37.



Georg Lukács on Dialectics



“…in dialectics the definite contours of concepts (and the objects they represent) are dissolved. Dialectics… is a continuous process of transition from one definition into the other. In consequence a one-sided and rigid causality must be replaced by interaction. … the most vital interaction… [is] the dialectical relation between subject and object in the historical process… in all metaphysics the object remains untouched and unaltered so that thought remains contemplative and fails to become practical; while for the dialectical method the central problem is to change reality.”


Lukács, Georg. “What Is Orthodox Marxism?”, in History and Class Consciousness, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; 1972, pp. 1-26.