Marx may be criticized for many things he had written and for what happened to the world afterwards, but the theory of alienation is probably not one of them. It is written in a quite specific manner, full of humanism and actual philosophical context of main arguments justification. Although it can be argued that Marx’s further works are derived from the “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844”, it is more humanistic and moral than any others and also shows certain naivety of Marx’ desire to prove the rich of this world wrong in their very self-justification. So, this essay is about understanding Marx’s theory of alienation and its evaluation in terms of our today perception.
The corner stone of the alienation theory is in the shift of labor’s value under conditions of capitalist society and money as means of evaluating the value. It does not mean that the labor itself has changed or that means of its conduct mattered in this process, but rather the attitude to the final product and the meaning of the producer of the labor became different. Unlike in times of barter when the main reason for the exchange of the final product was a surplus of unwanted and unused product or service, in the market-oriented society, the exchange is not direct. This means that money became not only means of transaction conduct but also the evaluation of products themselves. Marx outlines that the main problem of the money value of labor in the capitalist society is that it does not correspond to the natural and actual value and is imposed by the capital owners in order to increase their profits. He writes:
“If the price is high, then the commodity is in great demand; if the price is low, then the commodity in great supply: “the price of labor as a commodity must fall lower and lower”…The worker is not at all in the position of a free seller vis-a-vis the one who employs him… The capitalist is always free to employ labor, and the worker is always forced to sell it” (Marx 9).
In this discourse, Marx concludes that since the final product of the worker is undervalued under conditions of the capitalist society, and so the very meaning of the final product changes, at from the point of the worker. At a certain point, the worker realizes that his value as an individual is summarized in the money value of his product for the consumer. In other words, objectification of the labor takes place both in a sense of the final product and its producer. The alienation occurs when an individual (worker) loses the ownership and certain bondage with the final product of his activity. It as if the object becomes alien to its creator.
The main reason for this alienation and exclusion of the worker from societal activity is the very structure of the capitalist society based on the law of supply and demand and money value. Marx believed that capitalist society could exist only due to the alienated working class and that private property was actually a direct result of this alienation. Since a living creature cannot entirely abstract itself from the surrounding environment, the worker had to reinvent new attitude to his product. The new attitude was conducted from the point of the capitalist owner, so private ownership was born (Marx 33). The problem of the capitalist structure is that no matter how much the worker works, he is incapable to cross the borders between classes and achieve a better life due to the undervaluation of labor and massive enrichment of the wealthy class while the working class was struggling.
The labor alienation is not simply in the lack of bondage between the worker and his product. It has quite ruinous consequences. That is why Marx described four forms of alienation. They can be also viewed as phases because they show deterioration of one’s alienation and certain falling out of society and existence itself. The first one is an actual loose of bondage with the product. The second is when labor becomes impersonal. From one point, it can be an indication of dominance of mass production. From another, it may show the lack of the worker’s interest in individualization of his work, mainly because it would be appreciated accordingly anyway. The third form of alienation is the worker’s exclusion for the human race. This means that he is no longer viewed as a member of his species but as a worker first and member of the human race second. It may also seem that he is treated like a slave and is viewed as second-best. Thus, like Ancient Greeks, wealthy capitalists see only cattle and not human beings. Finally, the worker is alienated from other human beings. This means that he cannot perform social interactions with other people because he is not treated as a part of the society and has no means for feeling like one and acting like one.
It may seem that simple restructuring of the society and substitution of money with traditional barter might change the situation, and return people to a more harmonious relationship. The problem is that it would have even more ruinous consequences. Marx was an idealist believing that common goals would overwhelm individual desire for private ownership. History teaches us that even in times of barter there was class division of society, there were wars for resources’ redistribution. Even, if society were restructured, sooner or later strongest would be on top and weakest would subordinate, and no actual equality would be achieved. The problem of Marx’s perception of the matter is that he considered that the intelligent would be able to rule the labor class and that altruism would overcome incentives of private property. On the other hand, experience of the Soviet Union showed that, in this or the other way, private ownership will take place. The ownership of the Communist party was at cost of multiple nations within the “unified regime”. Where the equality and supremacy of common prosperity in the Soviet Union was is one of the questions Marx is lucky he does not have to answer.
Marx K. and Engels F. The Economic Manuscript and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844: and the Communist Manifesto (Great Books in Philosophy). London: Prometheus Books.1998. Print