production?InEstranged Labour (1844), Marx argues that during the transition from Feudalismto Capitalism, a class division of the proletariat, workers who sell theirlabour, and the bourgeoisie, employers who buy labour, had emerged. He iscritical of the treatment of workers within Capitalist societies, and arguesthat this treatment leads to to them being alienated in multiple ways.
Marxuses the term alienation to describe workers estrangement from themselves, fromother workers, from their product of labour as well as from the activity ofwork itself. Alienation, he argues, is a product of workers not owning theirown labour, the introduction of competition, workers only being involved inonly one part of the labour process and work becoming a ‘mere means to mansexistence’ in capitalism. Whilst Marx believes alienation is an inevitableoutcome of Capitalism, I will also be discussing those who have argued againstits inevitability.
Thefirst type of alienation Marx discusses is self-estrangement. He argues thatworkers feel detached from themselves because they do not own their labour, asinstead the bourgeoisie do. They are controlled through employers decidingtheir wages and hours, as well as being heavily monitored by CCTV for example. Marxstated that what differs humans from other animals is the 201156344abilityto act with conscious of what we do and want to do, rather than acting out ofinstinct. Therefore when employers tell you what to do, taking away yourability to do what you want, it reduces your humanity, which he describes as”things of animals became things of human beings, while things of human beingsbecame things of animals.
” He believes this control means workers are not free,and no longer receive satisfaction or enjoyment from working. Prior to Capitalismpeople would work/create products simply for pleasure and out of their ownchoice, yet now we work simply to live. Marxgoes on to explain how workers are estranged from each other. He arguesCapitalism treats people as individuals wanting to work for themselves and notfor others too as “freely associated men.” Therefore when workers look toindividually, rather than collectively, sell their labour, competition iscreated.
Workers are put against each other for jobs and we start seeing othersas opponents rather than humans. This can cause conflict within theproletariat, which can be argued to distract them from the problem of classconflict, preventing a revolt. As well as, with the amount of people sellingtheir labour, a reserve army of labour is created, which causes exploitation ofwages and hours as there is always someone willing to do the job and theproletariat see themselves as individuals rather than a collective group. Marxdiscusses a third type of alienation, workers estrangement from their product oflabour. He argues this comes from how in Capitalism workers do not keep whatthey make, but rather it is sold to others. Workers put 201156344themselvesinto products of their labour and then are separated from them when they aregiven to the employer, meaning they cannot use or gain enjoyment from them.This can cause them to feel detached from their labour and get a sense ofmeaningless in what they do, as they don’t receive satisfaction from theirproducts in the way workers used to. Instead of making products for the benefitof themselves they are making them for the benefit of the people who will buythem.
Marx argues that prior to Capitalism labour was satisfying, as workerswere able to witness the final product rather than only being one part of thelabour process. Thefinal type of alienation Marx discusses in Estranged Labour (1844) is workersalienation from the activity of work itself. He states that labour is externalto the worker,” as it is no longer voluntary but rather forced, as inCapitalism you have to work to provide for yourself. This is because, hebelieved, work is now less about what workers enjoy doing and want to do, andmore about what they have to do survive, meaning if they were able to surviveunemployed then they would. As well as, he argues that work has become simplerepetitive tasks, which are not enjoyable.
Therefore, workers only enjoyactivities outside of work, including when doing their “animal functions,” andfeel alienated when at work. Marx also discusses the increased use of machines,causing labour to become more advanced yet workers to become less ingenious anddeskilled. Machines have the ability to do multiple tasks meaning workers don’thave to do these themselves, which can cause alienation because they’re not asinvolved in the labour process. 201156344WhilstMarx believes workers will never be free until they own their own labour,Bramann (2009) argues we have come to a point in society where it would beimpossible to go back to this as today “industrial production has outgrownindividual production.” He believes whilst at the time Marx wrote EstrangedLabour it may have seemed achievable, it is now unlikely to reverse toindividual ownership, especially through a Proletariat revolt that Marxsuggests.
Whilst Marx argues this would be the only way to get rid ofalienation, Bramann believes that alienation can be and has been reduced throughimprovements within the workplace. For example, in the 19th centurythere were awful conditions such as sweatshops, child labour, slave labour, lowwages etc. yet now there have been laws passed to restrict these things,meaning a restriction on alienation too. Yet, these conditions do exist stillin developing countries, and in some cases still in developed, and as we buyfrom these countries for cheap products we are still involved in thisexploitation. Bramannalso criticises Marx’s theory of works being alienated from one another as hementions the development of unions in our society, which show solidaritybetween workers does exist. However, the power of these trade unions is limitedwhereas the power of employers remains strong. Bramann does not criticise thestrength of employers as he argues that as in politics, there should be thosein charge of making the big decisions to run effectively. His last criticism ofapplying Marx’s theory of alienation today is that there is no longer a “classwar,” as he believes conditions for workers are not as 201156344severeas Marx describes them, therefore this struggle is an exaggeration.
Yet,Bramann himself recognises that whilst absolute poverty has decreased, relativepoverty has increased, with managers now earning hundreds of times more thantheir workers do. This has led to the bourgeoisie getting smaller and richer,whilst the proletariat gets larger and poorer. Although this gap is prominentnow, Marx’s work has previously been criticised by Israel (1971) to beinsufficient to be used in empirical research, as he argues it lacks scientificvalue, as well as potentially being due to there being no successful example ofit. Manycritics of Marx refer to the disasters of attempted Communist revolutions inthe Soviet Union and China. Marcuse (1971) claims that Marx is mistaken inthinking that getting rid of Capitalism and the class structure would get ridof alienation, and that this was shown through these revolutions.
He arguedthat whilst this gets rid of the political aspect of Capitalism, thetechnological aspect remains as work continues and therefore so does alienation.Erickson (1999) supports this argument, acknowledging that even under communalownership, “alienation remains if the process of production is not changed.”(p.
23) One reason he gives for this is that whilst the desire not to workexisted before capitalism, workers still choose to work and in return they receivea wage. As well as, he argues repetitive tasks are simply a part of everydaytasks and is not unique to Capitalism, giving the example of someone in thefamily routinely preparing meals everyday. However, whilst people choose towork, in work poverty is a large problem in the UK with the second largest 201156344groupreceiving benefits being people in employment, and zero hours contacts becomingmore popular, showing these wages, or the hours people are receiving, are notenough for people to survive. Furthermore,Bramann notes that Marx sees a good standard of living as more than materialpossessions achieved through a good wage, but also “rich experiences, fullydeveloped emotions and closeness to other people,” therefore he believes workshould be fulfilling, not just repetitive tasks.
Yet, Erickson discusses howMarx generalises the alienation of workers, neglecting those who do work withcreation and fulfilment, particularly those in non-industrial jobs. A finalcriticism Erickson gives of Marx in his theory of alienation is that he offersno better alternative for a method of production that does not cause workers tobe alienated in these ways. Whilst these arguments opposing Marx’s theory ofalienation are of good use when discussing whether or not alienation isinevitable in Capitalism, they are mainly related to the fact that alienationhas not disappeared where Communism has been imposed.
Frank (2015) recognisesthat whilst this is true, “it does not mean that alienation is any less presentwithin Capitalism.” Overall whilst Communism aims to reduce alienation, the aimof Capitalism is to gain profit, meaning low wages, competition, etc., whichare alienating features. Inconclusion, Marx describes alienation as workers estrangement from themselves, otherworkers, their product of labour and from the activity of 201156344workitself. He argues these are inevitable outcomes of Capitalism because of theaim of profit, causing the exploitation of the proletariat. To achieve maximumprofit employers impose low wages, long hours, strict control and thereplacement of human for non-human technology.
As well as, workers no longerown their labour, are put against each other in competition, are only involvedin one part of the labour process and have to work to survive. Whilst Marxshows how alienation is inevitable, Bramann addresses that this theory is more applicableto 19th century than contemporary capitalism due to improvements inthe workplace. This is a convincing argument yet neglects the deskilling ofworkers due to new technology, as well as the bad conditions that remain forworkers such as low wages. Another strong argument against its inevitability isthat Marx does not give an alternative method of production.
Yet overall, Marxclearly describes the inevitability of alienation within Capitalist productionand most arguments against this go off the basis that the Communist revolutionsthat have occurred haven’t been successful in eliminating alienation. Although this is true, this does not makealienation any less present in capitalism.