The entire concept of cyborgs or automated labor of any kind is inseparable from the contexts of economic production, and R.U.R. emphasizes this context much more than the first cyborg text, Shelley’s Frankenstein. Some of the basic concepts of Marxist analysis involve recognizing the social and economic structure as consisting of a base and a superstructure. The base consists of the government structures and the superstructure consists of the markets, culture and society that forms “on top” of that base. A major claim of Marxist theory is that the base and the superstructure are controlled by the ruling class, but that class struggle, a constant element of capitalist economies, forces the ruling class to control not only the state but also as much of the superstructure as possible, including ideology. Through ideology, the labor component of society is brought to cooperate (continue to work for wages but remain complicit with the division of power) and continue reproducing new laborers (making and raising children). Of course, the introduction of automated labor, robots, changes everything. But the rebellion of the robots in R.U.R. can be read as a proletariat rebellion against the ruling management class. Volumes have been written by Marx and in his wake about the specific ways in which the ruilng class exploits the working class to both extract surplus value from their labor and also to retain its hold on power. As a literary study tool, Marxism can help us make sense of and recognize issues of class struggle and exploitation of labor in the dialogue and action of R.U.R. —Michael Filas —R.U.R.: Themes (Michael Filas)
A good chunk from an unfinished website analyzing Rossum’s Universal Robots, one of my favorite literary works.