For Marx, the history of mankind had a double aspect: It was a history
of increasing control of man over nature at the same time as it
was a history of the increasing alienation of man. Alienation may
be described as a condition in which men are dominated by forces
of their own creation, which confront them as alien powers. The
notion is central to all of Marx's earlier philosophical writings
and still informs his later work, although no longer as a philosophical
issue but as a social phenomenon. The young Marx asks: In what circumstances
do men project their own powers, their own values, upon objects
that escape their control? What are the social causes of this phenomenon?
To Marx, all
major institutional spheres in capitalist society, such as religion,
the state, and political economy, were marked by a condition of
alienation. Moreover, these various aspects of alienation were interdependent.
"Objectification is the practice of alienation. Just as man,
so long as he is engrossed in religion, can only objectify his essence
by an alien and fantastic being; so under the sway of egoistic need,
he can only affirm himself and produce objects in practice by subordinating
his products and his own activity to the domination of an alien
entity, and by attributing to them the significance of an alien
entity, namely money." "Money is the alienated essence
of man's work and existence; the essence dominates him and he worships
it." "The state is the intermediary between men and human
liberty. Just as Christ is the intermediary to whom man attributes
al his own divinity and all his religious bonds, so the state is
the intermediary to which man confides all his non-divinity and
all his human freedom." Alienation hence confronts man in the
whole world of institutions in which he is enmeshed. But alienation
in the workplace assumes for Marx an overriding importance, because
to hi man was above all Homo Faber, Man the Maker. "The outstanding
achievement of Hegel's Phenomenology . . . is that Hegel grasps
the self-creation of man as a process. . . and that he, therefore,
grasps the nature of labor and conceives objective man. . .as the
result of his own labor."
under capitalism is involved in men's daily activities and not only
in their minds, as other forms of alienation might be. "Religious
alienation as such occurs only in the sphere of consciousness, in
the inner life of man, but economic alienation is that of real life.
. . . It therefore affects both aspects."
the domain of work has a fourfold aspect: Man is alienated from
the object he produces, from the process of production, from himself,
and from the community of his fellows.
produced by labor, its product, now stands opposed to it as an alien
being, as a power independent of the producer. . . .The more the
worker expends himself in work the more powerful becomes the world
of objects which he creates in face of himself, the poorer he becomes
in his inner life, and the less he belongs to himself."
alienation appears not merely in the result but also in the process
of production, within productive activity itself. . . . If the product
of labor is alienation, production itself must be active alienation.
. . . The alienation of the object of labor merely summarizes the
alienation in the work activity itself."
from the objects of his labor and from the process of production,
man is also alienated from himself--he cannot fully develop the
many sides of his personality. "Work is external to the worker.
. . . It is not part of his nature; consequently he does not fulfill
himself in his work but denies himself. . . . The worker therefore
feels himself at home only during his leisure time, whereas at work
he feels homeless." "In work [the worker] does not belong
to himself but to another person." "This is the relationship
of the worker to his own activity as something alien, not belonging
to him activity as suffering (passivity), strength as powerlessness,
creation as emasculation, the personal physical and mental energy
of the worker, his personal life. . . . as an activity which is
directed against himself, independent of him and not belonging to
man is also alienated from the human community, from his "species-
being." "Man is alienated from other men. When man confronts
himself he also confronts other men. What is true of man's relationship
to his work, to the product of his work and to himself, is also
true of his relationship to other men. . . . Each man is alienated
from others . . . each of the others is likewise alienated from
human life." Marx would have liked the lines of the poet, A.E.
Housman, "I, a stranger and afraid/In a world I never made."
Only Marx would have replaced the poet's I with We.
The term alienation
cannot be found in the later writings of Marx, but modern commentators
are in error when they contend that Marx abandoned the idea. It
informs his later writings, more particularly Das Kapital. In the
notion of the "fetishism of commodities," which is central
to his economic analysis, Marx repeatedly applies the concept of
alienation. Commodities are alienated products of the labor of man,
crystallized manifestations, which in Frankenstein fashion now dominate
their creators. "The commodity form," writes Marx in Das
and the value
relation between the products of labor which stamps them as commodities,
have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and
with the material relations arising therefrom. It is simply a definite
relation between men, that assumes in their eyes the fantastic form
of a relation between things. To find an analogy, we must have recourse
to the nebulous regions of the religious world. In that world the
productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed
with life, and entering into relation both with one another and
with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities, with
the products of men's hands. This I call the fetishism which attaches
itself to the products of labor, as soon as they are produced as
Explicitly stated or tacitly assumed, the notion of alienation remained
central to Marx's social and economic analysis. In an alienated
society, the whole mind-set of men, their consciousness, is to a
large extent only the reflection of the conditions in which they
find themselves and of the position in the process of production
in which they are variously placed. This is the subject matter of
Marx's sociology of knowledge, to which we now turn.