In this tutorial, I will discuss the Marxist theory of alienation. Alienation is when we are disconnected, or removed from something else. We are alienated from that other thing. What Marx observed, was that the captialist mode of production causes many variations of alienation experienced by people. In this tutorial, I will explain three forms of alienation: from labour, from society and from nature.
Alienation from labour
Alienation from labour is when we consider the relationship between the worker and the business owner, or the proletariat and the bourgeoise. The work that it is done by the worker involves the creation of goods that don’t belong to them. Those goods belongs to the business owner. From this, the worker is alienated from their labour since they are creating something in a context where they have no control on how it is made, how much it costs, how much of it they get (if they get any of it at all), under what conditions they make it, and so on. This alienation stifles the individual expression of the worker and reduces them to a ‘cog in the machine’. This is alienation from labour in a nutshell.
Alienation from society
Under an overall economic structure that encourages extracting as much labour as possible from workers, this places work as the main focus of worker’s lives. Since the goal of capitalists is to get as much labour out of a worker as they can, this encourages to have them work as hard as they can for smaller wages. This results in the worker spending most of their time working in order to recieve an income that will allow them to meet their basic needs. Prior to laws protecting 8-hour working weeks and weekend penalty rates, workers would work 15-16 hour days 6 days a week (sometimes more), where they literally would only stop work to eat, sleep then return to work again.
The consequences of a society that makes the majority of people spending the vast majority of their lives working in a situation where they have no control, alienates them from focusing on social concerns with one another. Spending time with our family, friends and engaging in community focused activities is placed secondary to fulfilling our requirements as workers.
Alienation from Nature
This is where the natural world has its value reduced to its potential profitability and exchange on the market. Nature is no longer treated as something good in of itself, or good for society. From this, society’s treatment of nature is dependent on how profitable it is. This is why many contemporary environmentalists, such as Extinction Rebellion, are critical of Capitalism in their environmental activism.
Alienation, or alienations, are driven by a phenomenon which is described in Marxist theory as ‘Commodity Fetishism’. This will be discussed in the next tutorial. If you wish to learn more about Alienation, visits marxists.org or get a copy of Karl Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts.