Alienation: Capitalism and Workers

Topics: Capitalism, Marxism, Karl Marx Pages: 12 (4561 words) Published: March 29, 2005
Marx's Alienation of Labour

There is deep substance and many common themes that arose throughout Marx's career as a philosopher and political thinker. A common expressed notion throughout his and Fredrick Engels work consists of contempt for the industrial capitalist society that was growing around him during the industrial revolution. Capitalism according to Marx is a "social system with inherent exploitation and injustice". (Pappenheim, p. 81) It is a social system, which intrinsically hinders all of its participants and specifically debilitates the working class. Though some within the capitalist system may benefit with greater monetary gain and general acquisition of wealth, the structure of the system is bound to alienate all its participants. This paper intends evaluate Karl Marx's theory of alienated labour. In doing so it will demonstrate how capitalism both a century and a half ago, and to this very day, produces and also perpetuates alienation within the work environment. Though Marx's theory of alienation is not without its flaws, the fundamental backbone to his theory is still relevant to this day. A critical element is to take Marx's basic premises of alienation into context and realize that the capitalist world has evolved tremendously since Marx's work during the early years of Industrial Revolution. Marx's concept of alienation can be defined as "the distortion of human nature that is caused by the domination of the worker by the ‘alien will' of the capitalist" estrangement (Ritzer, p. 55). A key element to his theory of alienation focuses on the individual's experience of feeling powerlessness when they fail to realize their own human potential, which in turn causes false consciousness. His theory is based upon his dialectics and on the totality of reciprocal relationships to nature and to other individuals within society, which are motivated and perpetuated by the need for material things. Marx' theoretical concept of alienation was forged during his transition from the Critique of Hegel to the Critique of Economic philosophy. It was during this time that the issues of labour and class became central to his theories. In Marx's early writing's, specifically ‘The Economic Philosophical Manuscript' written in 1844, he presented the types of alienation which where interdependent and rooted in the productive labour of capitalism. The ‘…Manuscripts of 1844' set forth his views of alienated labour, communist people and society, and capitalism to human needs. Marx's theory of alienated labour is structured around a class-based system. It is vital to acknowledge that Marx's evaluation of the capitalist system is based focused the Industrial Revolution a century and a half ago, and therefore must be kept somewhat in that context. Within Marx's simplified capitalist society model, one class of people own and control the raw materials and their means of production. They are referred to as capital, bourgeoisie, or the owning class. The capitalist does not just own the means of production, but also all the items produced. By virtue of their ownership of production property they receive an income and earn a living from the operations of their factories and shops. The owning class owns the productive resources, though they do not usually operate the production means themselves. The need for a second, less class of citizenry to work is essential and they are referred to by Marx as the labour, Proletariats, or the working class. The working class exists to run the means of production, and they must sell their labour-power to the owning class in order to sustain themselves. Their skills are their only true ‘value' in the alienated minds of the capitalists. The worker is limited with what they have to offer the capitalist and that is themselves and their individual skills as a commodity. Marx viewed the ‘commodity' as the most elementary form of modern wealth. The essence of the commodity is...

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Antonio & Glassman., A Weber-Marx Dialogue, University Press of Kansas, Kansas City, MI., 1985.
Ritzer., Sociological Theory, Fifth Edition, University of Maryland. McGraw-Hill Higher Education, Baltimore, MD., 2000.
Alienation and the Social System edited Finifter, W., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Toronto, Ontario, 1972.
Joachim, I., Alienation: From Marx to Modern Sociology; A Macrosociological Analysis, Allyn & Bacon, Boston, MA., 1971.
Pappenheim, F., ‘The Alienation of Modern Man; An Interpretation Based On Marx and Tonnies ', New York, New York., Modern Reader, 1967.
Marx, Karl, & Engels, Fredrich, The Communist Manifesto, Bantam Books, New York, New York, 1992.
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