Muscles and Marxism
Jack Herrera

10 April 2017

The folks over at Jacobin, an up-and-coming socialist magazine, enjoy taking the bizarre ephemera that shows up on your Facebook feed and turning it into Marxist treatises.

Recently, Adam Sztela took a look at the “Arnold Classis”—a bodybuilding competition named for the action movie star and former California governor—and tried a deep dive into the class politics of bodybuilding.

For Szetela, bodybuilding provides us a unique perspective on work: when you pump iron, the fruits of your labor belong to you and you alone, in the form of bulging biceps and six-pack abs.

Szetela contends that bodybuilding came into existence at the turn of the twentieth century precisely because laborers (who were, at the time, overwhelmingly men) found their systematized factory jobs menial and unrewarding. Feeling unsatisfied physically and mentally—and trembling at the loss of their “masculinity”—they turned to newly created gymnasiums to do the sort of gratifying physical work no longer expected of laborers.

Szetela writes that white-color workers also experienced a loss of satisfaction in work as corporatism robbed work of its meaningfulness:  

The gym offered well-to-do men a cultural space where labor could again be rewarding and intrinsically valuable, instead of alienating and externally oppressive,” he writes. “For early bodybuilders…the weight room was a place where mind and body were not separated, where workers had control of their labor, and where what they produced did not go to someone else.

Today, many bodybuilders do not work high-paying jobs; as Szetezla notes, studies have shown that bodybuilders—of any gender—feel unsatisfied with their day jobs, and feel that their real work happens in the gym.

Bodybuilding is certainly a unique form of labor, and it does seem to create a particular sense of fulfillment. Szetela gives an interesting Marxist take, but are there other ways for us to philosophize about bodybuilding?

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Comments (3)

Beverlyalcock's picture


Wednesday, April 19, 2017 -- 3:10 AM

Very informative. I am

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ondres's picture


Tuesday, April 2, 2024 -- 1:56 AM

These are the sort of blogs

These are the sort of blogs that I just love reading into. And the fact that these sort of blogs actively discuss neck exercises makes them all the more great. Where can I find more blogs like these then?

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Gregory's picture


Monday, April 15, 2024 -- 5:35 AM

It's fascinating to think

It's fascinating to think about the deeper meanings behind bodybuilding and its relationship to labor and fulfillment. While going to the gym can be rewarding, I personally prefer outdoor activities, especially in mountain areas where I can fully immerse myself in nature. I always bring along my equipment, including useful tools like the electric ball pumps from which ensure that I can set up my workouts anywhere with ease. For me, exercising outdoors not only offers physical benefits but also a sense of connection and freedom

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