Karl Marx’s idea of ”alienation” is one of the most widely debated concepts in social, political, and economic theory. It is an idea that the young Marx developed from the work of Friedrich Hegel. Marx first explained the concept of alienation in his economic and philosophical manuscripts and later elaborated on it in his important work Capital.
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, alienation refers to a person’s “withdrawal or separation from an object or previous attachment position” or, in the case of property, “transfer of property to another person”. Alienation, in the Marxist understanding, refers to a feeling of detachment from one’s labor and a loss of power over it.
form of alienation
Marx discussed four forms of alienation. Let’s use an iPhone factory worker as an example to illustrate each form.
Workers in such factories work long hours to produce high-end, expensive mobile phones that are absolutely out of their reach and they have no ownership or control over. Phones were made for capitalists, they were simply produced for exchange value. The first form of alienation is therefore what Marx calls alienation from the products of labor. The product will soon be owned and controlled by someone else and therefore assumes its own power. In today’s highly specialized and fragmented era of manufacturing, the production process is so fragmented that workers are often not even aware of what they are producing.
The second is what he calls alienation from the labor process. iPhone factory workers reportedly work long hours in poor conditions and low wages. They perform repetitive tasks. The more workers produce, the more productive power someone else can own and control. Where does all the work go? Work sustains workers, but much of it is spent reproducing the means of production for their owners and their power.
In the process, Marx argued, workers become miserable. he wrote: Although he cannot freely develop his mental and physical energy, he is physically exhausted and mentally debilitated. I feel like homeless at work. His work is forced labor rather than voluntary. ” So the third form is alienation from humanity.
Individuals perform these mundane tasks, acting less and less like humans and more and more like machines. A worker at the iPhone factory said 1,700 of her iPhones passed through her hands every day, as shown in an article in The Guardian. She was responsible for the special polish of the display. In such a scenario, according to Marx, humans lose what he calls ‘species being’, what, through productive activity, makes humans human and different from other species. Workers also don’t want to lose their jobs, so they slowly start to become competitive. This job is very hard and I have been unable to find a better paying job and live away from my family.
iPhones are now made in various factories in China, but for a long time they were mostly assembled at Foxconn’s flagship 1.4-square-mile factory outside Shenzhen. According to an article in The Guardian, the sprawling facility alone housed about 4,50,000 workers. In 2010, reports surfaced that many workers committed suicide or attempted suicide due to brutal working conditions. A CBS news report said of him one of the workers: They may have been overcome over time, except that we didn’t have the time. The factory was “a huge place of strangers,” she said. This marks Marx’s fourth form of alienation: alienation from society.
Thus, the process of worker alienation is completed: alienation from products, processes, themselves and their abilities, and others.
Other perspectives on alienation
Other writers interpret alienation in a more sociopsychological sense, meaning powerlessness, meaninglessness, lack of norms, self-alienation, and social isolation (Krahn and Lowe). These forms of marginalization can have various causes, such as bureaucracy and organizational structure, lack of ownership, social chaos or poor management, or technology. Most of these approaches refer to alienation as loss of control, lack of meaning, and difficulty in self-expression at work.
Some authors consider assembly line workers to be the most alienated, and workers such as doctors, teachers, or other professionals to be the least alienated. “Alienation can be lowest in organizational environments where members have control over their roles, meaning, and opportunities for self-actualization.” (Hagedorn). This latter use of alienation differs somewhat from Marx’s in that the solution to this form of alienation is to make the work more meaningful. Although this is a more reformist view, Marx believed that private property needed to be abolished and social and economic structures changed.
Alienation is sometimes used in a political sense, and voter alienation is a reason for dissatisfaction with political parties and policies.
There have been many criticisms of Marx’s idea of alienation. First, later thinkers say that Marx’s account was left unresolved in terms of its implications and how it could be eliminated. The future seems bleak.
Second, Marx’s approach to the study of alienation helps us understand the labor market and its living and working conditions, all of which have changed considerably since his time. I have. Some might argue that Foxconn’s example is of today’s age, but it was the backlash that forced the company to respond by saying it would replace some jobs with robots. You can also argue that some, but not all, workers find poor conditions. Due to the greater division of labor, each segment faces the impact of labor differently and depends on the country in which they live.
Third, another common criticism of Marxism is that it focuses solely on class and ignores other forms of segregation. Marx sees the root of alienation only in the exchange of labor for private property. However, similar feelings of alienation are associated with ethnicity, race (such as when blacks are not hired), geography (western Canadians often say they are excluded from mainstream politics), and caste (some regions reportedly prefer upper castes). role in the private sector) and gender (women are often reported not to receive promotions or wages like men) are not directly related to production. Not only working conditions, but also social relationships can lead to alienation.
Fourth, the word alienation is so popular that it is loaded with meaning and is often used in the subjective experience of alienation. claimed to be dilutive. Fifth, it has been criticized for its essentialism (eg by Althusser in 2005). As Marx argued, can a person be their true true self without or without relation to others? Later theorists say this is unlikely. Althusser also argued that Marx’s early texts differ epistemologically from later texts. He and later theorists also said that Marx’s idea of alienation was primitive and tentative. Sixth, it suffers from the dangers of paternalism. It assumes that there is human goodness that overrules people’s own experiences and desires (Jaeggi, 2014). The topic of alienation is often said to have become obsolete in social and political philosophy. However, some continue to understand, discuss and criticize it from a modern perspective.