Karl Marx and Alienation – Government (300 Level Course)
For Karl Marx, the idea of alienation is not as important as it is fundamental for everything that he has to say. Marx understands alienation as the claim that a product of one’s labor is objectified and that the value in the product is in the form of labor used to produce it and not the value that the product gains. It is in this work environment that the term “alienated labor” is derived. Marx has a problem with capitalism in that it focuses on the value of the produced object and not the human qualities involved in producing the object.
Thus the Marxian philosophy is that man is alienated from labor in three ways. First man is alienated from the actual objects of his labor. He is then alienated from any activities that he assumes as a worker. And lastly, capitalism alienates workers from their species being, or role in a universal essence. It is in these three ways that man is alienated from his labor and these help to define alienation for Karl Marx.
More simply put, for Marx, the worker in a capitalist society is denying himself rather than affirming himself. Marx has seen where capitalism had gone and noticed the shift in production geared only toward profit. This went against everything that he believed in, as the worker was then nothing more than a dog working for a system that was in no way rewarding him, not economically and never spiritually. The workers are not affirming themselves by what they do, for their work only becomes mind numbing and tedious. Marx believed that the worker became poorer as he produced more wealth. He became an even cheaper commodity with the more commodities he created. As the world around him appreciated in value, his world, the “world of men” devalued itself in a direct proportion. Marx states that the more industrialized the society becomes, the less the laborer is appreciated. Affirmation of the laborer is of utmost importance to Marx and he came up with his ideas of Communism as a direct result of the capitalist society not appreciating its workers.
Next we see that the worker soon estranges himself from his activities both as a worker in the system and worse yet as a citizen. In the capitalist system, the object is continually glorified rather than the worker. Marx says that because of this the laborer is often estranged and this results in his alienation. This alienation becomes pervasive and enters all aspects of the workers life, as the worker becomes robotic in his everyday actions and goes through the life without any form of satisfaction. Marx says that the more time the laborer spends at work, the more powerful the alien objective world becomes. A world in which he the worker created over himself. Thus the poorer he and his inner self become. Marx also believes that the capitalist system controls the worker in every aspect of their lives, thus creating a working machine and not a person. People do not grow through their work they merely grow to resent it. This is one of the evils that a communistic society was created to guard its citizens against.
Perhaps considered the most important by Marx would be the laboring man estranging himself from his own species being. By this man becomes a being that lives only to make money and reproduce. Therefore man would never work to achieve the universal essence that had been granted to them, and for Marx, their lives would not have been lived to fulfillment. Marx believes that in this particular case, even better wages for workers only make the personal slaving that these workers participate in more profitable but never actually solve the problem. The society becomes one that is lived in to please the system and not for personal development. In this case, capitalism is responsible for creating a society in which the focus of life is in the wrong area. That is saying all of the motivations for people are in the wrong spot; when they should be aiming towards personal development and satisfaction, they only concerning with pleasing the system. Marx’s Communism came about largely because of this reason.
These problems are the cornerstones of Marx’s alienation. It is this alienation that creates problems for Marx and it is this alienation that his writings and life works constantly attacked. He felt that in order to overcome this alienation, and to achieve human emancipation, the laborer had to return the satisfaction to himself and his production, thus negating money and private property and returning himself and his fellow workers to a state of universal essence. In order to do so, man had to fight the alienation from his labor, he had to fight the alienation from his activities both as a laborer and as an everyday citizen, and fight as an alienated citizen of the universe and the species being. It is in these three ways that man is alienated from his labor and in these ways that Karl Marx draws his political conclusions and theses. It is this culmination and combination that tells what alienation is to Marx and what functions that he feels it performs.