Karl Marx and John Locke both place a great deal of importance in both labour and property in discussing their political philosophies. At first glance, the two thinkers seem to possess completely different ideas on property, its importance, and the form of society which should grow from it. The disparity in their beliefs is evident, but they share a similar approach to labour and acceptable conditions while constructing philosophies which inherently attack each other. Locke’s suggestion that capitalism is a natural political progression can only be accomplished when the worker himself becomes a commodity to be traded, a transformation which Marx identifies as a major problem with capitalism. In looking at capitalism through a Marxist lens, we can see that Locke may find substantial problems with it.
At the outset of Locke’s fifth chapter in the Second Treatise of Government, he sets the stage for property acquisition. “God, who hath given the world to men in common, hath also given them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life, and convenience” (Locke 18). Locke implies that God’s creation of the world ultimately serves men, for their property will come of it, and with it, the best advantages of life. As the fruits of the world ripen, men find themselves picking it off the trees and placing it under their command as part of their property. One cannot underestimate the importance of property for Locke. It is the single most important aspect of human relation. Disputes over property directly proceed to Locke’s state of war, an important term which I will return to later. In Locke’s mind, property plays a key role in the creation of civil society. “The only way whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties…” (Locke 52). I would say that while Locke discusses the necessity for the state to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of property, the necessity for the state follows directly from property acquisition. According to Locke, the need for protection is spurred by the idea of property. The protection of one’s health and one’s freedoms directly relate to the property in his possession and the threat that other people may show him in desire for that property.
Labour itself also plays a large part in Locke’s analysis of property and thus, the analysis of the state. What constitutes property for Locke? “Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property” (Locke 19). Locke places a great deal of emphasis on the importance of labour, and the fact that its addition to goods constitutes property. He goes so far as to say that in analyzing “what in...