Chapter Two (8/8)

Work

A Basque socialist must be an exemplary worker and do his job well. Why? In order to win out over the Bible and return to work its category of force majeure [superior force]1 The cooperative worker must be an exemplary worker and do his job well, Arizmendiarrieta will answer in contrast. Why? In order to demonstrate his maturity as a man and as a citizen (FC, III.232).

In addition, in his moral, even mystical view of work, Arizmendiarrieta is indebted to earlier Basque socialists. With them he shares pride in work, the pride of the worker who knows he is doing his job well, quietly looking down on poor or mediocre workers. And with the socialists he shares the desire to—in the words of Zugazagoitia—"embellish the idea of work, to make it agreeable and sweet, as sweet smelling and beautiful as May Day." 112

Still, he will face head on the challenge to "triumph over the Bible," developing his own concept of the dignity of work, by insisting that ‘work is not a punishment from God, but rather proof of the confidence that God has in man, turning him into a partner" (EP, I, 298). And paradoxically, he finds support for this in Marx.

We find the oldest text of Arizmendiarrieta on the dignity of work in some manuscript fragments, probably class notes from his time as a student. No one has lifted higher the dignity of work—we read in the notes—than Christians. The proof is that Jesus, before he devoted himself to preaching, had a thirty-year working career.2 This strange argument never appears again in his writing. But it is an indication of his interest early on in a philosophy of work. In fact, in statements made to J. Larranaga, he referred in the following terms to his studies in the Vitoria Seminary: "At that time, among many ideas, those of Mounier were circulating. We had a teacher who was his student and, among other things, I recall and have fixed in my mind the idea that work ennobles man but society brutalizes him. According to the theory, we were to shoulder brutish and ignoble work as a service. We opened our minds to this new vision of the theological concept of work, not as punishment but rather as an opportunity for fulfillment. These were, then, key ideas which launched us toward other reflections."3

Without strictly limiting ourselves to Personalist authors, we need to recognize that Arizmendiarrieta’s concept of work is essentially the same as Christian social doctrine.4 That said, to state that capital is an "instrumental factor of production," that is, of work, of which capital is said to be a product, and to deny on the other hand that work can ever be considered an instrument, as buyable and sellable merchandise5, draws Christian social doctrine and socialism closer together. Personalist writers have been very aware of this convergence.6 "The abolition of the capitalist form of servitude as obligatory labor [?] is a necessity recognized by both Personalism and socialism," states Maritain.7 Both he and Mounier recognized outright the powerful contribution of Marxism to the modern awareness of the dignity of work. At this point—in our opinion— we find Arizmendiarrieta at his closest to the ideas of Marx.

"The importance of Phenomenology and its final result," Marx noted in his Paris manuscripts," consists of the fact that Hegel conceives of the self-creation of man as a process of "reification" and "de-reification," of alienation and overcoming alienation, and of the fact that he thinks of the essence of work, and of the individual flesh-and-blood man, as the result of his own work."8 Hegel, in effect, sees consciousness developing in the double confrontation of man with nature and of men among themselves, with both confrontations taking place in the distinctive activity of mankind, in rational work. (Contemplation, being passive, yields no consciousness of itself; rather it is a submission to the object being contemplated). Work raises up man as an entity. It is in work where we find the essence of man, where man finds his uniqueness and develops himself, becoming fully a man.9

In addition, for Marx, work is the creator of consciousness and of freedom, the creator of man. In transforming nature, man transforms himself. In conquering nature, he conquers himself. In nature, man is incomplete and, torn apart from it, ripped from his original union with it. Only by humanizing nature will he be able to rebuild this primordial union. "It is through work that, little by little, throughout history man asserts his dominion over nature and realizes his true self. The activity of man slowly disentangles itself from nature and asserts its primacy over it. Thus, through work, man creates a humanized nature while at the same time defining himself, becoming progressively more spiritual as his dominance increases."10

In reality, we must refer to the wide tradition, only within which Marx can be understood, which, beginning in the Renaissance, replaces contemplative man with active man. And within this tradition, we must highlight, with regard to the philosophy of work, Hegel and Marx.11 Neither classical antiquity nor the Middle Ages, the latter despite its concept of ars divina, a reflection of the creative ars creadora12, was able to develop a truly positive attitude towards work. The Spanish word trabajo [work] itself, as well as its synonyms in Indo-Germanic languages, alludes invariably to its root meaning of poverty, orphanhood, servitude, low social standing, neediness, and poverty. Specifically, the word derives from tripalium, an instrument of torture.13 This original meaning—which is not exactly Biblical—of punishment and suffering, is maintained down through the centuries. The Renaissance, with its elevation of manufacturing activity, and the Reformation, with its new work ethic[^ch-127], laid the groundwork for the eighteenth-century glorification of work and entrepreneurship in which "a moral and mystical view of work arose, whose slogans were: Ex labore honor, In labore robur, Labor improbus omnia vincit, etc."[^ch-128] Active man has replaced contemplative man, and the inversion will be complete when Marx declares the suppression of Philosophy itself in favor of Praxis.

The famous quote from the Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach, "philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways, but the trick is to transform it,"14, will echo in Arizmendiarrieta’s incessantly repeated phrase "the world was not given to us simply to observe it, but rather to transform it" (EP, I, 167).

It was important to engage in this brief discussion because it contrasts strikingly with the view of the crisis presented earlier. Then, we were witnessing, starting with the Renaissance, a general collapse of the most human of values. Now, beginning with the Renaissance, we observe the exaltation of the most human of values. But the contradiction is only apparent, not real, and understanding it will shed new light on the very concept of the crisis. H. Arvon has observed that it is precisely the greatness and eminent dignity of work which makes the bourgeois social order appear all the more scandalous and inhumane, and which reduces work to a simple commodity.15

Thus, the order advocated by the Personalists will be a "civilization of work," in which work will be freedom. "Work itself has become a myth, outside of man, and his servitude has been reinforced by it. Let us consider work, then, not by the strict definition that money has given it, but in the widest sense, on three levels: manufacturing, education, and creation. When we say "civilization of work," we are not contrasting one myth to another, but primarily indicating our repulsion to a system which weighs most heavily on the workers, and secondarily, pointing out the path toward a society in which work, by finding its meaning and its unity, would tend, both collectively and personally, toward creation. This is a long path which, in certain contexts, passes through industrialization, but which is not to be confused with it."16

Just as was the case with Arizmendiarrieta’s educational program, we see that his concept of work also arises from a strong synthesizing effort. We find within it Basque social tradition, an appreciation of the intrinsic value of work, the Christian theology of work, Marx/Hegelian inspiration, and Personalist philosophy. Arrizmendiarrieta took the elements that suited his thought without hesitation and from wherever he found them. He was always open to suggestions and convinced that all currents of thought have something positive to contribute to the development of man.

By way of conclusion, let us highlight that dignity, education, and work do not constitute units or constructs in isolation, linked for better or worse by mere chance. These three fundamentals of any human order are not only essential, but are intertwined and manifest themselves together. The dignity of man is made. It is constructed. Which is to say—as Arizmendiarrieta repeats—human nature is the artefact, preferably understanding "artefact" as education. Significantly, the same expression in Mounier generally refers to work.

Let us see, then, in detail, how Arizmendiarrieta develops these three fundamentals.

Professional training: a necessary step to deal with the business world.


  1. Zugazagoitia, quoted in Olabarri, I., op.cit., 98.

  2. Hand-written notes (Arizmendiarrieta Archive).

  3. Larranaga, J., op. cit., 28. Since he was most likely a reader, rather than a devoted disciple of Mounier, we might conjecture that the philosophy of work communicated by the professor from Gasteiz/Victoria whom we quote was based largely on Le travaile e l’homme, … Nor can we exclude the work of Borne, E., Travail humain…., an author much praised by Arizmendiarrieta.

  4. See a thorough exposition on the subject in Guix, J.M., , El trabajo, en: Profesores del Instituto León XIII, Curso de doctrina social católica, B.A.C., Madrid 1967, 395-583. Código Social de Malinas, cap. IV, nn. 94-100, Códigos de Malinas, Sal Terrae, Santander 1962, 93-97.

  5. Códigos de Malinas, 96 and 99.

  6. Lacroix, J., Marxisme, existentialisme, personnalisme, P.U.F., París 1971. Véanse, en especial sobre el concepto del trabajo, pp. 27-41.

  7. Maritain, J., Humanisme intégral, 92.

  8. Marx, K., Manuscrits de 1844, Ed. Sociales, París 1962, 132.

  9. Marcuse, H., Ontología de Hegel, Martínez Roca, Barcelona 1968, 252-258. ID., Razón y Revolución, Alianza, Madrid 1971, 117 ss., 282 ss. T AYLOR , Ch., Hegel, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 1978, 203 ss. VALLS PLANA , R., Del yo al nosotros, Laia, Barcelona 1979, 135 ss. R. DE YURRE , G., El marxismo, B.A.C., Madrid 1976, 25-28.

  10. Lacroix, J., op. cit., 30. Cfr. C ALVEZ , J. Y., El pensamiento de Carlos Marx, Taurus, Madrid 1966. GUICHARD , J., El marxismo. Teoría y práctica de la revolución, Desclée de Brouwer, Bilbao 1975. K ERNIG , C. D. F RENZEL , G., Marxismo y Democracia. Enciclopedia de conceptos básicos, Rioduero, Madrid 1975, 142-155. R. de Y URRE , G., op. cit., vol. I, 28 ss.

  11. Arvon, H., La Philosophie du Travail, P.U.F., París, 1979, 13-40. L Oewith, K., Von Hegel zu Nietzsche, F. Meiner, Hamburg, 1982, 284-311

  12. The idea of mankind cooperating with God through work, which we also find strongly emphasized in Arizmendiarrieta, seems to come from Pseudo Dionysus, cf. Vignaux, P., … Nonetheless, in the Middle Ages, the aesthetic and penitential value of work predominates, cf. Guix, J. M. … But, on the other hand, recall Bacon’s aphorism, indicative of an incipient new and positive attitude: "Discoveries are like new creations which imitate divine works," Novum Organum, Nr. 129, Fontanella, Barcelona 1979, 116.

  13. Guix, J.M., op. cit., 396-402. K ERNIG , C.D.-F RENZEL , G., op. cit., 130-132.

  14. Marx-Engels, Obras Escogidas, Ed. Progreso, Moscú 1966, vol. II, 406.

  15. Arvon, H., op. cit., 32.

  16. Domenach, J.M., Dimensiones del personalismo, Nova Terra, Barcelona 1969, 13.

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