21 January 2013
Close Reading of Karl Marx’s Alienated Labor
For Karl Marx, every individual part is only relevant when taken within the scope of the whole. The paragraph on page 331 is emblematic of this notion because it arrives at the culmination of one of Marx’s major points in his theory of alienation: that by working in the capitalistic system, the worker estranges himself from other men and sets up a system of domination. In this paragraph, Marx introduces the notion of the “practical, real world” claiming that in reality, “self-estrangement can manifest itself only in the practical, real relationship to other men” (Marx 331). In the paragraphs leading to this one, Marx establishes his argument for how man estranges himself from both the product of his work and the act of production itself. Both of these points, however, merely serve as individual stepping-stones in the realm of the whole. When Marx conceptualizes the “practical, real” version of estrangement, he introduces the umbrella, which, when placed over the individual stones, grants pertinence and meaning to everything he has been discussing thus far. Reading on, Marx constructs an implicit dichotomy between the “practical, real” and the less perceptible abstract. He writes: “so through estranged labour man not only produces his relationship to the object and to the act of production as to alien and hostile powers1; he also produces the relationship in which other men stand to his production and product, and the relationship in which he stands to these other men.” Using perfectly parallel structure, Marx breaks apart the two opposing realms of estranged labor—its role in the relationship of man to abstract “powers” and of man to other men—and places them on directly separate sides of his statement. Furthermore, an analysis of the footnote at the bottom of the page provides a noteworthy implication from this dichotomy. Marx originally described the relationship between man...
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