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Marx, Karl

Page history last edited by Robert Goldman 15 years, 1 month ago

Karl Marx was a German philosopher. He was born in Trier, Prussia in 1818, and died in London, England in 1883. He is credited as the founder of communism. Marx wrote many books in his lifetime including The German Ideology (1845), Wage-Labor and Capital (1847), Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), and Capital I, II, and III (1867, 1885, 1894). 

  

On Alienation and Objectification

 

Marx theorizes that it is in the act of production, through human labor, that we make ourselves. However, the capitalist mode of production also allows for humans' alienation and objectification. Workers become separated from that which they produce (alienation), and in that separation humans are reduced to objects of labor rather than active subjects (objectification). Marx details this in a four step process:

 

  1. Workers are alienated from that which they produce: Alienation of the proletariat began with the commodification of labor by the creation of the concept and practice of wage labor. This relationship it set up so that the money that workers are paid is directly relevant to the amount of time they spent working, not necesarily how much or what kind of work they have done. In this case, it is not the worker that decides how much his/her labor is worth, but rather the capitalist, the one providing the wage, decides the rate of exchange.
  2. Workers are alienated from the work task, labor, itself: With the increasing use of machines and the deskilling of labor, the important factor in production is no longer the quality of the product, nor its sentimental value to the maker or community, but rather the profit that can be collected from it. This alienation intensified with the division of labor as well as the increasing progression of technology. It became more profitable to invest in industrial technology that would increase production efficiency and, in effect, reduce the skill level required for the workers. Now, instead of workers actively using a tool or machine to produce their goods, the machine becomes the actor in the production and the worker is administering the machine. The tools of the trade became the workers producing, while the humans working because the tools to aid the process. This role reversal in the relationship between workers and the forces of production is a key element to the alienation of workers.
  3. Workers become alienated from others (social relationships suffer): Performing alienating labor, the worker feels no attachment to his/her work. It does not satisfy any of his/her needs because in the end, it is not his. Therefore the worker only enjoys him or herself when not working. However, because the work performed is not mentally stimulating nor challenging, the worker suffers from lack of stimulation and this reflects in the time spent not working.

  4. Workers become alienated from their species needsWhen we are alienated from that which makes us, namely our labor and ability to produce, we are no longer equipped to "be" and are transformed into mere objects, imprisoned by our own products.

 

Marx applies this theory of alienation to religion and the state. As a people, we have produced God and yet we submit ourselves to Him as humans. We have endowed Him with value and specific attributes, but we must look back to God to receive and validate our own value. We have thus moved from the active agent (subject) in producing, to the passive object. The rights, values, and ability of the state to give freedom and equality to its peoples, naturally emerges from the way we organize ourselves in class, power, and social relations. In other words Marx argues that, like God, the state cannot give rights to the people that aren't first produced from our own social relationships. Once again, our products and actions have been alienated from their original sources and we are forced to submit ourselves to our own creations. While religion serves to relieve discontent or allow the laborer to forget his/her perpetual alienation (hence why Marx calls religion the opium of the people), it serves the contradictory purpose of aiding in the persistence of alienation.  Marx saw religion as continuing the status quo because it was used as a tool by the oppressors to make people feel uplifted.  Since religion can only provide temporary and illusory relief, Marx believes the abolition of religion was necessary for people to achieve true happiness. 

 

 

Alienation also permeates the state.  Under the system of private ownership, society is divided into two classes, the property owners, or capitalists (bourgeoisie) and the property-less workers (proletariat).  The bourgeoisie is the ruling class and it rules based on its own class interests, not the interests of the wage laborers.  In order to reproduce the capitalist system, the bourgeoisie rejects the need for the state to serve the collective needs of all classes and secures their domination by enforcing only their class’s interests.  Thus, the state acts as an oppressive force which alienates wage laborers from the ability to make decisions that could affect their lives.

Comments (3)

Nina said

at 3:18 pm on Dec 11, 2008

Karl Marx
Estranged Labor (1844)

In this work, Marx outlines how workers become estranged from their work in what he describes as “the most wretched commodity of all.”

As societies move away from agricultural-based to industrial-based economies, workers are needed to fill factory positions. Labor produces labor and therefore, labor becomes an “object.” Alienation takes place between the wage-earner and the labor he produces. His work is no longer his own, but is purchased and the work he produces he feels no connection to. For example, a person who crafts furniture from wood cut by his own labor feels differently about his work than a worker who loads boxes of pre-fabricated furniture.

Marx claims this alienation that a worker feels towards his work, stifles his creativity and leaves him soul-less.

Nina said

at 9:56 am on Dec 12, 2008

Louis Althusser
Ideology allows us to imagine that we are making our own free choices. It determines what we do within state-imposed structures. All ideologies have the same structures. Ideology is a system of representations, the way that myths, rituals, etc. are represented in our societies. We cannot escape ideology; it is all around us; we can never escape.

Althusser differs from Marx in this respect. Marx sees ideology is about false consciousness and is manufactured rather than just happening. If everyone agrees to change, then we can escape.

jessicah@... said

at 4:52 pm on Dec 13, 2008

Language is the first form of consciousness that arises out of man's need to communicate. Consciousness (and language) is therefore a social construct. The realization that language is necessary and that man has consciousness in addition to instinct separates man from animal, signifying man's understanding that he is part of a society. Consciousness develops further and production increases leading to an increase in man's needs and to an increase in population. Through production, man is able to satisfy his material needs but soon a division of labor results further causing contradictions such as: opposing groups, inequality in terms of products and labor, and the individual against the common good.

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