Karl Marx was one of the founding fathers of sociology. He ideas were highly influential in establishing the socialist movement. Marx was born in 1818 in Trier, Germany, to a German-Jewish family. In 1848, Marx co-wrote The Communist Manifesto, alongside his close friend, and fellow supporter Fredrich Engels. This is his most famous piece of work. Marx’s main social theory was the alienation of the worker in a capitalist society. From a Marxist perspective, the alienation of the worker discusses the limitations and loss of workers control over their work and lives due to the destruction of conscious creation. Marx had four dimensions to his theory of alienation: Alienation of the product, alienation from productive activity or work itself, alienation from other people, and alienation from ‘species being’.
According to Marx, capitalism needed to be put to rest just like any other political oppression in order for a society’s emancipation to be complete. He believed that a society needed to be a political, economic and social democracy (Bramann, 2009). The main problem with capitalism for Marx was that he saw ‘us’ as a society, separated within this capitalistic society, that there was a gap between ‘human essence’ and human existence, meaning what we are as human beings and how we are living in today’s society. Marx describes the ‘human essence’ to be social, creative, and productive (Marx, 43). His argument is that we’re not living as stated by this idea of ‘human essence’; therefore we are alienated in society.
The first level of alienation that Marx discusses is that of the worker from the product. Marx’s defines the act of production by saying that it is continuous, because a society is unable to stop production as long as it is still consuming (Marx, 711). The worker becomes a personal source of wealth for the owner of the workplace – the bourgeoisie. Marx said, “What we are is what we produce”, but under capitalism, the products that we create are not owned by us. The worker is the working class and the owner of the production means is the capitalist class. The portion of the product received by the working class is a vicious circle where the worker receives wages, which go toward the purchase of products, and are ironically put right back into the hands of the capitalist class (Marx, 712). This form of alienation can be put into practice with an example of a shop worker and the owner of the shop. The worker is given their share of the profit made from the product in wages. The worker then spends their wages on products from another shop. Despite this not being an immediate proceeding between the worker and owner, the money is just circulated and arrives back in the hands of the capitalist class or the bourgeoisie. This example shows that capitalism depends on constant repetition of the working class. A modern example of this is prison inmates in the United States of America, a nation that so proudly flaunts their idea of ‘the land of the free’. There are 2.3 million Americans behind bars, away from the public eye. These are the “modern-day slaves of the 21st century”. Corporations exploit prison labour by hiring staggering amounts of convicts who are disenfranchised from society. These actions go almost completely unobserved by the public. The prisoners make for perfect employees, as they are unable to form a union and don’t need to be paid wages, if any (Khalek, 2011).
The next level of alienation is the alienation between the worker and their work. Alienation from the worker and their work is when the employee’s capacity to work no longer belongs to them, but to someone else (the bourgeoisie). The worker no longer has control of what they are producing, the hours they work, and there is no room for creativity. Marx and Engels state in The German Ideology that the essence of the individual is dependant on the physical condition that controls their production. Marx continues to argue that the relation...
References: Bramann, J. (2009). Marx: Capitalism and Alienation. Retrieved from http://facultyfiles.frostburg.edu/phil/forum/Marx.htm
Infoplease. (2011). Women 's Earnings as a Percentage of Men 's, 1951–2011. Retrieved from http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/a0193820.html
Khalek, R. (2011). 21st-Century Slaves: How Corporations Exploit Prison Labor. Retrieved from http://www.alternet.org/story/151732/21st-century_slaves%3A_how_corporations_exploit_prison_labor
Marx, K. (2004). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1 (Translated by Ben Fowkes). London, Penguin Publishers
Marx, K. (1932). Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Moscow, Progress Publishers
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