Factory work exhausts the nervous system to the uttermost; at the same time, it does away with the many-sided play of the muscles, and confiscates every atom of freedom, both in bodily and in intellectual activity. Even the lightening of the labour becomes an instrument of torture, since the machine does not free the worker from the work, but rather deprives the work itself of all content. Every kind of capitalist production, in so far as it is not only a labour process but also capital’s process of valorization, has this in common, but it is not the worker who employs the conditions of his work, but rather the reverse, the conditions of work employ the worker. However it is only with the coming of machinery that this inversion first acquires a technical and palpable reality.
Marx (1990), p. 548
It’s not hard to imagine Marx talking about the work we do on the web as we answer CAPTCHAs, like and retweet posts in social media, and microworkers labor in their browsers. It’s also not difficult to imagine Foucault saying something very similar when expounding on his idea of biopower. Marx and Foucault seem to have a lot more in common than people generally seem to admit. Perhaps the political projects that arose around them were quite different, especially in time, but meanwhile their thought aligns quite nicely in places.
Yes, I’m still working my way through Capital and listening to David Harvey’s online lectures as a podcast on my commute. It is slow going, but it has been fun to slowly work through it at my own pace and not for a class or some directed purpose for my own research. But there are actually quite a few points of intersection, and it’s fun to run across them when Marx is writing in such a different time and place–which I guess is not so different after all. The scope of his project is truly remarkable.
Marx, K. (1990). Capital: A critigue of political economy (Vol. 1). London: Penguin.