What Is Alienation?

As soon as the division of labour comes into being, each human being has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape.

- Karl Marx, The German Ideology

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Marx saw Alienation as an objective condition inherent in waged labour under capitalism. He believed that the mass proletariat were alienated because the fruits of production belonged to the employers. Factory workers were estranged from themselves, from the products of their labour, and from each other. Human relations came to be seen as relations between commodities rather than people. Marx believed this alienation would be overcome in a communist future in which we could "hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner...without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic". Individuals would become multifaceted and be at one with their creative selves. Work, in such a future, would be an end in itself rather than a means to an end in the form of a wage.

Thinking Allowed explores the evolution and development of Marx's theory of Alienation. Can it, in any way, capture the experience of today's worker? Or is it hopelessly outdated in an economy dominated by a service sector rather than factory production?

Listen to the Thinking Allowed episode on Alienation

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Karl Marx’s thought is wide-ranging and has had a massive influence in, especially, philosophy and sociology. Marx is best known for his two unsparing critiques of capitalism. The first of these critiques maintains that capitalism is essentially alienating. The second of these critiques maintains that capitalism is essentially exploitative. This essay focuses specifically on Marx’s theory of alienation, which rests on Marx’s specific claims about both economics and human nature...

Continue reading Dan Lowe's article: Karl Marx's Conception of Alienation

Further Reading

Karl Marx's theory of alienation describes the estrangement (Ger. Entfremdung) of people from aspects of their Gattungswesen ("species-essence") as a consequence of living in a society of stratified social classes. The alienation from the self is a consequence of being a mechanistic part of a social class, the condition of which estranges a person from their humanity.

The theoretic basis of alienation, within the capitalist mode of production, is that the worker invariably loses the ability to determine life and destiny, when deprived of the right to think (conceive) of themselves as the director of their own actions; to determine the character of said actions; to define relationships with other people; and to own those items of value from goods and services, produced by their own labour. Although the worker is an autonomous, self-realized human being, as an economic entity, this worker is directed to goals and diverted to activities that are dictated by the bourgeoisie, who own the means of production, in order to extract from the worker the maximum amount of surplus value, in the course of business competition among industrialists...

Continue reading the Wikipedia article on Marx's theory of alienation

Related Topics

 Capitalism | Consumerism | Critical Theory | Ideology | Sociology

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