Karl Marx's Estranged Labor
In Karl Marx's early writing on "estranged labor" there is a clear and prevailing focus on the plight of the laborer. Marx's writing on estranged labor is an attempt to draw a stark distinction between property owners and workers. In the writing Marx argues that the worker becomes estranged from his labor because he is not the recipient of the product he creates. As a result labor is objectified, that is labor becomes the object of mans existence. As labor is objectified man becomes disillusioned and enslaved. Marx argues that man becomes to be viewed as a commodity worth only the labor he creates and man is further reduced to a subsisting animal void of any capacity of freedom except the will to labor. For Marx this all leads to the emergence of private property, the enemy of the proletariat. In fact Marx's writing on estranged labor is a repudiation of private property- a warning of how private property enslaves the worker. This writing on estranged labor is an obvious point of basis for Marx's Communist Manifesto.
The purpose of this paper is to view Marx's concept of alienation (estranged labor) and how it limits freedom. For Marx man's freedom is relinquished or in fact wrested from his true nature once he becomes a laborer. This process is thoroughly explained throughout Estranged Labor. This study will reveal this process and argue it's validity. Appendant to this study on alienation there will be a micro-study which will attempt to ascertain Marx's view of freedom (i.e. positive or negative). The study on alienation in conjunction with the micro-study on Marx's view of freedom will help not only reveal why Marx feels labor limits mans freedom, but it will also identify exactly what kind of freedom is being limited.
Karl Marx identifies estranged labor as labor alien to man. Marx explains the condition of estranged labor as the result of man participating in an institution alien to his nature. It is my interpretation that man is alienated from his labor because he is not the reaper of what he sows. Because he is never the recipient of his efforts the laborer lacks identity with what he creates. For Marx then labor is "alien to the worker...[and]...does not belong to his essential being." Marx identifies two explanations of why mans lack of identity with labor leads him to be estranged from labor. (1) "[The laborer] does not develop freely his physical and mental energy, but instead mortifies his mind." In other words labor fails to nurture mans physical and mental capacities and instead drains them. Because the worker is denied any nurturing in his work no intimacy between the worker and his work develops. Lacking an intimate relation with what he creates man is summarily estranged from his labor. (2) Labor estranges man from himself. Marx argues that the labor the worker produces does not belong to him, but to someone else. Given this condition the laborer belongs to someone else and is therefore enslaved. As a result of being enslaved the worker is reduced to a "subsisting animal", a condition alien to him. As an end result man is estranged from himself and is entirely mortified. Marx points to these to situations as the reason man is essentially estranged from his labor. The incongruency between the world of things the worker creates and the world the worker lives in is the estrangement.
Marx argues that the worker first realizes he is estranged from his labor when it is apparent he cannot attain what he appropriates. As a result of this realization the objectification of labor occurs. For the worker the labor becomes an object, something shapeless and unidentifiable. Because labor is objectified, the laborer begins to identify the product of labor as labor. In other words all the worker can identify as a product of his labor, given the condition of what he produces as a shapeless, unidentifiable object, is labor. The worker is then left with only labor as the end product of...
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