Foundations of modern social theory的final，纪念某个清晨，一个睡眼朦胧的女孩被涂尔干的思想醍醐灌顶而清醒无比的感觉。
As two of the three greatest sociologists in the 20th century, Durkheim and Marx have different interpretations of division of labor in modernity. In this essay, I will discuss their views on the role of division of labor in modernity and whether pathologies resulting from division of labor can be resolved within capitalism.
I. Role of division of labor in modernity
Both Durkheim and Marx did vertical (historical) and horizontal analysis on the role of division of labor. They both admit that division of labor is a vital momentum in social structural changes, though they have different attitudes on it-Durkheim is more positive about future social structural adjustment while Marx regards it as an ultimate power in self-destruction of capitalism.
In vertical analysis, Durkheim describes the social structural evolution as mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity, with analogy of biological evolution from lower organisms to higher organisms. And it was the division of labor that forced the change. In mechanical solidarity, people were united by similarity, with lower level of division of labor. However, demographic and technological factors, as well as heightened social interactions all made contributions to the development of division of labor. Because of the division of labor, the original work was divided into different pieces, occupied by different persons – people became more specialized and concentrated on narrower fields. Such specialization weakened the similarity among mechanical solidarity, which is the basis of collective consciousness. People feeling alienated from each other and the binding of society being loose, mechanical solidarity was finally deconstructed.
Nonetheless, the advanced division of labor, leading to the destruction of mechanical solidarity, is exactly the force to shape the society into organic solidarity and the binding to maintain the organic solidarity. People realized that the more solidary they became, the more interdependent they are. For example, in the streamline construction of car, every worker is in charge of a tiny part of the car, which would drastically improve the work efficiency. Also, without any one part, they would fail to build a perfect and complete car. Therefore, a new form of social structure has generated. In the organic society, people are so specialized that no one can be an “encyclopedia”. On the contrary, it is the specialization that leads them to self-realization, achieving greatness in their own fields. Besides, interdependence brought up by division of labor makes it impossible to be a real solitary, thus maintaining the organic solidarity.
However, Marx has a bitter interpretation of division of labor, instead, quite contrary to Durkheim’s. Although Marx admit the division of labor is the force to change the social structure, unlike Durkheim’s positive interpretation of it, Marx regards it as evil but functional. His invention of class analysis helped him extract two classes from the society, the oppressor and the oppressed. Capital accumulation was based on division of labor, which drastically improves the work efficiency. It is because the estranged labor in the streamlining manufacturing process can produce much more productions, thus giving rise to the genesis of bourgeoisie and supporting their political powers. The intensified tension between bourgeoisie and the lords finally let all that is solid melt into air.
Nonetheless, division of labor, which serves as supportive power in the social structural change from feudalism to capitalism, in turn generates the ultimate power in self-destruction of capitalism. The division of labor was necessarily followed by alienation of the workers, which finally triggers a new form of class struggle: bourgeoisie versus proletariat. In this struggle, the proletariat must win, Marx stated, for the bourgeoisie is dependent on the labor, the majority of the society. The appropriation of property, which attributes most part of property to small amounts of capitalists, is the terminal illness of capitalism. Therefore, just as the way capitalists united together to overthrow feudalism, the tense contradiction between capitalists and workers brought up by division of labor - or we can say, alienation - leads capitalists to the road of self-destruction.
In horizontal analysis, Durkheim and Marx have very different methodologies. Durkheim’s analysis is labor-labor based while Marx is person-person based. Let me illustrate it:
Durkheim knows that in the organic solidarity with highly developed division of labor, people and labor slots are separate. Occupation is stable while people in the slots change over the years. Because Durkheim focused on the stable labor slots, he can easily find from them the collective consciousness, which is based on the interdependence of each labor slots. From the social structural perspective, such interdependence driven by division of labor is the gluten of organic solidarity. Besides, from the aspect of individual, he states that normal form of division of labor is good for everyone to exert himself. Specialization would help each individual to explore deeper in his or her own field, which would in turn benefit the society and make the collective consciousness even stronger.
While Marx’s horizontal analysis is individual based. Instead of focusing on the advantages of divided slots filled with different workers, Marx lays more emphasis on the individuals. He pointed out that the workers were alienated from the object of production, the act of production, species being as well as fellow man. The alienation from the object of production makes workers not able to enjoy the fruits of labor – the appropriation of property occurs; the alienation from the act of production makes them not able to freely develop his physical and mental energy and enjoy their jobs; the alienation from species being dehumanizes them into machines; the alienation from fellow man makes them lose the communication with each other as well as their employers. Such alienation won’t last too long for workers will finally stand up to fight against it, thus shaping the society into communism where class struggle disappears forever.
The divergence between Durkheim and Marx in terms of horizontal analysis results from their different perspectives and methodologies on division of labor, which also lead to their opposite predictions of capitalism.
II. Whether pathologies can be resolved within capitalism
Durkheim pointed out that organic society is more complex than mechanical society where similarity serves as the foundation of collective consciousness to unite the human beings - whereas the organic solidarity is based on division of labor. Division of labor will automatically generate two forces: centripetal force versus centrifugal force. Centripetal force is the unifier of the solidarity, based on interdependence, forming collective consciousness; centrifugal force is the alienating workers from labor and the whole social vision, which could be strong enough to generate pathologies. Durkheim pointed out three pathologies: anomic division of labor (such as bankruptcy), force division of labor and mismatch.
Anomic division of labor can be attributed to the excess strong centrifugal force. In the huge global market, we get lost because we cannot see or even imagine the market. The only thing that we are sure about is our own labor slot. Such blindness leads to inefficient production – it’s one form of market failure. But Durkheim thinks such situation is abnormal, rather than natural feature of division of labor. Normally, workers are able to realize their roles in the society without getting lost.
Force division of labor and mismatch are similar with Marx’s interpretation of alienation. Because the distribution of property is routinized to form classes, we lack absolute freedom to choose the job that we really want and be able to do. And Durkheim prescribes a solution – it’s the only and final solution – we should eliminate external inequality to maintain a free and equal condition for making contracts. “The ideal of organic society is to inject an even greater equity into our social relationships, in order to ensure the free deployment of all those forces that are socially useful.” His attention to justice is based on social function rather than morality. (His morally neutrality would attract high praise from Weber, I guess.)
Anyway, Durkheim posited that all these are pathologies that can be resolved within capitalism. He conceived of a social system that can automatically adjust its operation in response to extrinsic factors and feedback. He assumed that these pathologies are common and normal to the social operation, just like illness and malfunctions occasionally occurring in our body. Actually, after overcome the pathologies, the social structure would be refreshed and more stable.
However, Marx made a pessimistic interpretation of these pathologies. He focused on individuals’ reactions – such alienation would finally burst into destructive power to capitalism. He regards these pathologies as terminal illness that would necessarily occur, which capitalism would finally fail to devour them. His incisive observation of capitalistic economic operation let him believe that the deep contradiction between bourgeoisie and proletariat will finally lead to radical social structural change. Like the triad thesis – antithesis – synthesis, proletariat would someday unite to fight against bourgeoisie and reach harmonious communism where no class struggle exists. Whether the bourgeoisie would remain antagonistic to proletariat and whether proletariat, as alienated workers, could communicate and unite are two questions that only time could tell. One thing to clarify, division of labor itself is not always a bad thing – even in communism, there exists division of labor, which is the indispensable feature of modernity. But in capitalism, division of labor would necessarily goes to extreme to alienation, which will destroy capitalism in the end.
First, Durkheim’s analysis is based on social level instead of individual’s. His advocating eliminating the external inequality may just be wishful thinking, because the contemporary capitalism is dependent on inequality. Take American criminal law for example. Although consciously, people believe the equality before law, the truth is, the poor, the minority and the uneducated burden more liabilities than the privileged – they would be sentenced to death because they cannot afford excellent lawyers to defend for them. The formal justice of law would be distorted into double standard in the administration of criminal justice system due to the economic and social inequalities. Without inequality, the privileged cannot enjoy their constitutional rights on minimal cost. And they also lack the motives to reform the social system to realize true equality before law. This is capitalistic intrinsic contradiction. For the purpose to maintain their privileges, capitalism may adopt different methods to alleviate the contradiction between classes, while I think ultimately eliminating the equality is impossible. On the other hand, Durkheim’s analogy of biological structure also has bugs. He ignores the individual characters. In our body, we know that some organs are more important than others, such as brain. But our organs lack consciousness and humanity, so they would not complain the equalities and still work together for the whole body. While human beings have the instinct to compare with each other so the unequal levels of their roles and functions can spur a huge problem in the society. So I think his social based analysis absent individual level’s attention is the Achilles heel.
Second, I think Durkheim and Marx can be complementary. Marx focused on the ultimate effects of class struggle while contemporary capitalism proves that it has the elasticity to adjust to the contradiction in class struggles. Durkhiem can explain the social state of peace; Marx can explain the radical reform of social structure. We can see after every economic crisis, capitalism is refreshed instead of destroyed. It processed in an upward spiral and that’s the best routine of social structural evolution ever. It is still unknown whether the society will radically change its form into communism.
Third, the reason why we cannot tell the future of social structural evolution is that we cannot predict the war of centripetal force versus centrifugal force generated by division of labor. Division of labor has pros and cons. Durkheim believes pros - centripetal force will be the winner while Marx the opposite. And the result of war will decide whether pathologies would be resolved within capitalism.