Read this essay to learn about Alienation. After reading this essay you will learn about: 1. Definition and Nature of Alienation 2. Rise and Development of Alienation 3. Marx’s Theory 4. The German Ideology 5. Effects 6. Types 7. Emancipation.
Definition and Nature of Alienation:
According to COD alienation is the state or experience of being alienated. A state of depersonalisation or loss of identity in which the self seems unreal.
Alienate means cause to feel isolated. Lose or destroy the support or sympathy. But the dictionary meaning of alienation though paves the path for better understanding of the concept; it is not enough for forming a comprehensive idea.
Rousseau and Marx used the concept in their political philosophies and in the twentieth century this has been widely analysed by a good number of thinkers. In this analysis we shall primarily confine ourselves within the Marxian sense. But before him Rousseau developed the idea in his mind.
The author of the article Alienation published in Bottomore’s a Dictionary of Marxist Thought says:
“In Marx’s sense an action through which (or a state in which) a person, a group, an institution or a society becomes (or remains) alien (1) to the results or products of its own activity (and to the activity itself) or to the nature in which it lives or to other human beings. Thus conceived alienation is always self-alienation i.e., the alienation of man (of his self) from himself (from his human possibilities) through himself (through his own activity). And self-alienation is not just one among the forms of alienation but the very essence and basic structure of alienation”.
Alienation has another manifestation. It is not simply a concept but a real picture of a capitalist society. If it is so then we may treat it as an appeal for a revolutionary change of society.
Marx intended to emphasize that alienation is the primary cause of dehumanisation and both alienation and dehumanisation are curse of a bourgeois society.
Meszaros in his noted work Marx’s Theory of Alienation explains the concept in the following way: “Alienation is an eminently historical concept.” If man is alienated from something, as a result of certain causes the interplay of events and circumstances in relation to man as the subject of this alienation which manifest themselves is a historical framework. Meszaros calls it a historical idea or concept because it did not arise all on a sudden.
In a capitalist society the system of production and the nature of the economy created an atmosphere which ultimately resulted in alienation. Alienation is not a negligible aspect of a bourgeois society. Its tentacles spread almost every part of society and in that sense it is general.
It is said that:
(a) Man is alienated from nature,
(b) From himself, that is from his own activity,
(c) From his species-being,
(d) And, finally, he is alienated from his fellow citizens.
What is of importance is that there are foot-prints of alienation in every nook and corner of a capitalist society.
In his Economic and Philosophic Manuscript 1844, Marx made the following remark: Man’s species being, both nature and his spiritual species properly, into a being alien to him, into a means to his individual existence, his human being.
Man is estranged from the product which he produces with his own labour, with his own intelligence and physical capacity. He becomes, due to the curse of alienation, simply a machine.
We here quote a part of Meszaros’ comment he makes about Marx’s idea on alienation: “Thus Marx’s conception of alienation embraces the manifestations of man’s estrangement from nature and from himself on the one hand and the expressions of this process in the relationship of man-mankind and man-man on the other”.
Rise and Development of Alienation:
Since alienation is an important part of Marx’s philosophy the scholars have displayed active interest in its various aspects. George Lukacs is of opinion that Marx’s theory of alienation can be traced to Hegel’s Protestantising Critique of positivity.
In this critique Hegel rejects as dead those human relationships or institutions in which persons give only an outward and constrained conformity, but concerning which they lack a freely given inward conviction.
The roots of the theory of alienation, then, reach down into the rejection of “constraint” into the disjunction in which constraint is experienced as powerful but wrong; it is a response to the perception of this violation of grammar of societal rationality and an effort to overcome such an unpermitted social world.
The spiritual world is a world of corruption and slavery. It is uncontrolled absolutely by few churchmen. Ordinary people are deprived of unhindered access to the temple of God. Naturally the church or temple or any holy place is alien to them.
Neither protestation nor grumbling has any effect. Common people have no feeling for the world they live in. It is alien to them. This is the picture of alienation generally found in religious world.
Rousseau is the real progenitor of Marx so far as the idea of alienation is concerned, because he spoke of this concept in the most unequivocal terms.
He started in Social Contract with the famous declaration:
“Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they.” Rousseau says that from the moment of his birth man is the victim of alienation. Man is born in a society and then he is alienated from it.
This alienation is to be removed through the formation of a new society whose mechanism is social contract. A new body formed on the basis of certain principles can destroy the possibility of alienation.
The formation of body politic alone cannot remove alienation. The whole body politic will be administered by the principle of general will and this general will is the sovereign.
In other words, introduction of direct democracy is the only way out from the menace of alienation. In Rousseau’s judgment enlightenment and the all-round development of reason were the root causes of alienation, because these invited fraud and corruption. This led Rousseau to revolt against reason and progress of science and civilization.
In this connection I quote a beautiful remark of J. S. McClelland. “Rousseau’s insistence that the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of force and fraud is an ideological statement”.
Rousseau speaks of alienation from nature. He is of opinion that when a good thing is out of hands of God it finally comes to be vicious. Degeneration in all its forms steals the virtue of goodness and man comes to be its victim.
Finally civilization comes to be the victim of this degeneration. Man is separated from his near and dear ones, from his environment. Man’s most dear wishes remain unfulfilled.
In the state of nature there was no existence of alienation. For that reason he suggested to build up a new society which would facilitate the revival of old state of nature and at the same time destroy alienation. Money and wealth are chiefly responsible for the alienation because these have corrupted man’s mind and self centred.
The exorbitant love for money leads him to earn more and more money and this is a vital factor of the rise of alienation. We think that Rousseau rightly diagnosed the cause of alienation.
Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) threw sufficient light on the concept of alienation and Marx agreed with most of the views of Feuerbach. We have already stated that Feuerbach strongly criticized the prevailing concept of religion and in that connection he opposed the religion-created alienation.
Feuerbach said that “man is not a self-alienated God, but God is self-alienated man” God is created by man, but he is above man and is separated from man in all respects. He is estranged from man and Feurbach calls it alienation.
In Feurbach’s opinion religion is the best example of estrangement or alienation. He further says that it is peculiar that the religion or God is man’s own creation and ultimately he is separated from it. Naturally if man wants to make him alienation-free, the best way is de-alienation.
Feuerbach confined himself within the religious alienation and Marx did not agree with this, because he was of opinion that alienation was of more than one form. This was first pointed out by Hess.
Hess did not agree with Feuerbach’s one type alienation. Marx also agreed with Hess and this he noted in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. “Marx praised Hegel for having grasped the self-creation of man as a process, objectification as loss of the object, as alienation and transcendence of this alienation. But he criticized Hegel for having identified objectification with alienation and for having regarded man as self-consciousness and the alienation of man as the alienation of his consciousness” Bottomore (ed) A Dictionary of Marxist Thought.
Marx’s Theory of Alienation:
Both The German Ideology and Paris Manuscripts have elaborately analysed the theory of alienation. In the Paris Manuscripts Marx has used the term alienation of labour or alienated labour.
What did Marx actually mean by alienation or alienated labour? We shall quote a lengthy passage from his Paris Manuscripts. He said: “The worker is related to the product of his labour as to an alien object. The object he produces does not belong to him, dominates him and only serves in the long run to increase his poverty. Secondly, alienation appears not only in the result, but also in the process of production and productive activity itself. The worker is not at home in his work which he views only as a means of satisfying others’ needs. It is an activity directed against himself, that is, independent of him, and does not belong to him. Thirdly, alienated labour succeeds in alienating man from his species. Species life, productive life, life creating life turns into a mere means of sustaining the worker’s individual existence and man is alienated from his fellowmen. Finally, nature itself is alienated from man, who thus loses his own inorganic body.” Marx speaks of these four types of alienation.
The alienation, he describes, is primarily the product of capitalist system of economy. But if the capitalism is in its childhood stage the alienation does-not seem to be its basic characteristic.
When it sufficiently develops the alienation surfaces prominently. Explaining Marx’s standpoint or view Kolakowski makes the following observation: “Private property is a consequence and not a cause of the alienation of labour. In the developed conditions of capitalist appropriation the alienation of labour is expressed by the fact that the worker’s own labours as well as its own products have become alien to him. Labour has become a commodity like any other, which means that the worker himself has become a commodity and is obliged to sell himself at the market price determined by the minimum cost of maintenance; wages thus tend inevitably to fall to the lowest level that will keep the workmen alive and able to rear children”.
In other words, the worker works hard and this he does not for his own satisfaction or benefits but for the benefits of the capitalist. He grumbles, he remains dissatisfied. But he is helpless.
Marx has also said:
“The worker only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home”.
Marx draws our attention to this point. He says that the working class alone is not the victim of alienation. The entire capitalist society comes under the evil influence of alienation.
In the Holy Family he writes:
“The propertied class and the class of proletariat represent the same human self-alienation. But the former feels comfortable and confirmed in the self-alienation knowing that this alienation is its own power and possessing its semblance of human existence. The latter feels itself ruined in the alienation and sees in it impotence and the actuality of an inhuman existence”.
Alienation produces double effects. The capitalist class, though alienated, produces wealth. The working class is alienated but is the victim of poverty and exploitation. There is hardly any good relation or coordination between the two classes though both are indispensable for production.
The German Ideology and Alienation:
In the German Ideology Marx and Engels have discussed the alienation. But instead of using the word alienation they have used “estrangement” which also signifies alienation.
According to Marx-Engels one of the basic characteristics of capitalist society is the division of labour and within this there lie numerous contradictions. The worker is separated from family. But normally this should not happen.
Again, in a capitalist society, families are opposed to each other. The produce is not properly distributed, that is, there is unequal distribution of commodities. This is also a type of contradiction and leads to alienation.
The conditions in the family, relations that grow within the family and other related matter are also the product of capitalist system. These are the potential sources of alienation. None gets rid of it because everything is inextricably related with capitalism.
Marx-Engels write in the German Ideology:
“Out of the very contradiction between the particular and the common interests, the common interest assumes an independent form as the state, which is divorced from the real individual and collective interests, and at the same time as an illusory community as long as man remains in naturally evolved society, that is as long as a cleavage between the particular and the common interests, as long as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally divided man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him which enslaves instead of being controlled by him. As soon as division of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape”.
Some critics have alleged that compared with Paris Manuscripts Marx uses the word alienation or alienated labour less frequently in The German Ideology. But Kolakowski says that this allegation is baseless because in many places he and Engels have used the alienation or estrangement.
In The German Ideology Marx and Engels have said that division of labour was the real villain, that it was the root cause of alienation. The improvement of tools has intensified and universalized the division of labour and this, in turn, led to the alienation.
“Division of labour leads necessarily to commerce, i.e., the transformation of objects produced by man into vehicles of abstract exchange value. When things become commodities, the basic pre-miss of alienation already exists”.
Hence the real culprit is division of labour. Furthermore, without division of labour the modern industry cannot proceed at all. It is, however, evident that in The German Ideology Marx and Engels both were fully conscious of the alienation.
Let us quote few lines from the German Ideology:
“Individuals have always regarded themselves as the point of departure; their relations are part of the real process of their lives. How can it be, then, that their relationships become independent of them, that the forces of their own lives gain control over them? The answer, in a word, is the division of labour, the degree of which depends on the extent to which productive forces have developed.”
In the German Ideology they have further observed:
“For the proletarians the condition of their life, labour and with it all the conditions of existence of modern society, have become something extraneous, something over which they as separate individuals, have no control, and over which no social organisation can give them control”.
Effects of Alienation:
Marx and Engels have not consistently analyses the inhuman effects of alienation. The central idea of this alienation is it is the core of the entire capitalist system and it is the primary reason of the dehumanisation of man in general and workers in particular.
As a result of alienation man simply becomes an instrument of production. All his good and artistic qualities are lost.
“Alienated labour deprives man of his species-life, other human beings become alien to him, communal existence is impossible, and life is merely a system of conflicting egoism. Private property, which arises from alienated labour, becomes in its turn a source of alienation, which it fosters increasingly”.
The effect of alienation is it paralyses the entire society. Man is paralyzed; he forgets social and ethical aspects of life. In society there develops social relation among men. This social relation based on mutual love, respect, and give-and-take relation is, in a sense, elixir of life.
Man draws inspiration from the social relation. But the division of labour destroys all these aspects and man finally becomes a tool of production of various commodities. The worker is reduced to a mere animal or a lifeless instrument of production.
Physiologically a worker is a man and this much only. In the real sense he is not a man. Again, the capitalist is not free from the bad effects of alienation. A capitalist is a human being no doubt. But as a consequence of alienation he is simply a money-making machine. He forgets social life.
To a capitalist money is the supreme good and all other things are inferior to it. A worker is practically forced to think in the same line. Thus the whole society is dehumanised as a result of alienation.
Types of Alienation:
In Capital, The German Ideology, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844) and many other works Marx, along with Engels, has discussed various types of alienation. These may be categorized as political alienation, economic alienation, alienation of human power etc. We shall start with political alienation.
According to Marx man plays double role he is a member of society and, at the same time, he is a member of state which is also called political system. As a member of society he has his own views or conception about religion, morality, ethics, values and culture and he always endeavours for the fulfillment of these.
An individual cannot avoid society or he cannot live outside it. He is also a member of the state or political system. The problem lies in the fact that though the individual is a member of the state, he is not fully free to do his duties. This is primarily due to the fact that the economy and administration of the state are dominated by the bourgeoisie and it is so controlled as to safeguard the interests of this class.
In the state, common people are not free to take their political an economic decision freely. It is because the capitalists control the entire state for their own benefits, and, in that situation, general public are practically alienated from the political and economic structure. Again, in capitalist system, people have very little or no scope of participation in the affairs of the state.
Again, in the economic field, people are simply wage-earners and this wage is subsistence level that is somehow to maintain the physical existence of the wage-earner and his family. Again, the bureaucracy of the state is all powerful and the common people have no scope of participation. This is the central idea of political alienation as Marx and Engels witnessed in their contemporary society.
The economic alienation is the most important form of alienation and both Marx and Engels have emphasized it.
In the Economic and Political Manuscripts (also called the Paris Manuscripts) and Capital (Vol. III) Marx elaborately analyses the economic alienation.
He has said that in the primitive mode of production there was no division of labour because the productive system was not developed at all. But, with the progress of productive system and capitalism, division of labour ultimately came to be an integral part of capitalist economy. For the betterment of economy and other compulsive reasons the capitalists were forced to introduce division of labour and with the progress of the capitalist system the division of labour gradually intensified.
With the improvement of the division of labour there appeared spectacular loss of freedom of the workers. Because the workers of one industry had no freedom to move from one industry to another.
Since his own labour has been alienated from himself by the sale of his labour power, has been appropriated by the capitalists and incorporated with capitals, it must be in the production process, be realized in a product that does not belong to him.
The labourer constantly produces material, objective wealth but in the form of capital of an alien power that dominates and exploits him. The capitalist also produces labour power in the form of subjective source of wealth separated from the objects in which it can alone be realized.
In expansion of capitalism, growth of wealth creates only wage labourer. A barrier or alienation is created between capitalists and worker. The growth of capitalism only perpetuates alienation.
Marx further says:
“Capital shows itself more and more as a social power and its agent is the capitalist. The capitalist enjoys the right to appropriate values created by the workers. On the contrary, the worker is not the owner of the product he produces. Capital becomes a strange, independent social power. It stands opposed to the society and opposed to the interest of labourers. The contradiction between capital as a general social power and as a power of private capitalists over the social conditions of production develops into an ever more irreconcilable clash.”
This clash or contradiction is basically due to the alienation of worker from the mainstream of productive system. Marx’s special emphasis is that a capitalist system cannot get rid of alienation because there is contradiction.
Marx has also said that in the field of alienation technological progress has a special importance Machinery is not guided by man; rather man is guided by machine. Labourer has no opportunity to work with the machinery in accordance with his own will or advantage. Rather, labourer will have to cooperate with the machinery.
It is a fact that machinery helps man to produce huge amount of commodities but its dark side is it has made man its slave. How the capitalist productive apparatus intensifies the alienation.
Kolakowski beautifully says:
“Work presents itself to him as an alien occupation, and he forfeits his essence as a human being, which is reduced to purely biological activities. Labour becomes only a means to individual animalized life and the social essence of man becomes a mere instrument of individual existence. Alienated labour deprives man of his species- life, other human beings become alien to him, communal existence is impossible and life is merely a system of conflicting egoism”.
If we go through Marx’s writings we shall find another type of alienation and it is alienation of human power.
“Man is directly a natural. As a natural being and as a living natural being he is on the one hand furnished with natural powers of life he is an active natural being. These forces exist in him as tendencies and abilities as impulses. On the other hand as a natural corporeal, sensuous, objective being he is a suffering, conditioned and limited creature, like animals and plants. That is to say, the objects of his impulses exist outside him, as objects independent of him. Yet these objects are objects of his need essential objects indispensable to the manifestation and confirmation of his essential power.”
What Marx emphasizes here is that as a natural human being he has certain desires, impulses, liking and disliking. He has the desire to fulfill his desires. But the tragedy of the capitalist system is man has no power to satisfy his desires, to translate the impulses into reality, because he does not possess the power. The capitalist system has snatched away that power.
Marx further observes:
“Man is not merely a natural being, he is a human being. That is to say he is a being for himself. Therefore, he is a species-being and has to confirm and manifest himself as such both in his being and in his knowing. Neither nature objectively nor nature subjectively is directly given in a form of adequate to the human being.”
From the above two passages we can draw certain conclusion:
(1) Man is a natural being.
(2) As a natural being he has certain impulses and natural needs and he wants to satisfy them.
(3) Man lives in a society.
His life and all sorts of activities are performed and satisfied with the help of others and in association with others. But in the system of capitalist economy he is not getting these opportunities.
The capitalist system virtually separates one man from another. The needs of man are not fixed, always changing, but he is not capable of keeping himself abreast of change. It is because the capitalist system has enormously truncated his power and ability.
Suppressing his wishes and all sort of impulses he is forced to the power of the society that is the authority of the capitalist system.
Marx is of opinion that alienation is peculiar to class; society workers are alienated from the mainstream of society (both politically and economically). They are the real agents of production. They create wealth but they are deprived of the benefit of wealth.
The system of the division of labour has created an atmosphere of alienation. It is beyond the capacity of the workers to rectify or change it in their favour.
The workers are alienated in the field of production due to the strict division of labour. Workers are converted into machine and they work just like machine. They have impulses but have no time to feel them.
“In bourgeois society men acquire values in which they cannot find satisfaction, they are frustrated and are therefore, prone to actions which are wrong or illegal according to the moral rules and laws which embody these values. The morality of a bourgeois society is not a truly human morality; it does not allow men to make the most of their natural capacities”.
Plamenatz, however, does not agree with Marx that the alienation is the product of capitalism and class society.
Emancipation from Alienation:
We have pointed out the harmful effects of alienation. It paralyses man’s artistic aspects of life, it dehumanises him. Because of alienation man fails to establish himself as a man. Hence it is the primary objective of man to get rid of the alienation. But the problem is to think to emancipate from alienation and finally to translate it into reality are very different issues.
Only the abolition of private property cannot ensure the emancipation from alienation. The tentacles of alienation are spread far and wide and sometimes they have gone into the deep of society.
The primary source of alienation lies in the system of private property. This was the opinion of Marx and Engels. Even before them Saint-Simon thought almost in the same line. The problem is how emancipation from alienation is possible remains a million dollar question.
The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts were first published in 1932 and the Grundrisse in 1939 and they were republished in 1953. The Marxists are of opinion that the publication or republication have thrown profuse light on various aspects of Marxist philosophy but throws little light on the emancipation of alienation.
In The German Ideology Marx and Engels casually mention Rousseau’s Contract Social. Perhaps Marx and Engels thought of Rousseau’s ambitious plan of establishing a new society which he called public person and we call it an ideal society based on Platonic model of idealism.
Rousseau thought that setting up of such a society would be capable of emancipating people from alienation which was the consequence of the development of art, science and culture. But we are not sure whether Marx and Engels thought in the line of Rousseau.
There will be an end to all speculation if we look at the complete philosophical thought of Marx and Engels and their numerous suggestions. They were all along against the system of private property which, according to Marx, created disastrous effects in society.
In other words, the system of private property is the root of all evils including alienation. It paralyses practically everything of man’s “species-life”. Hence the abolition of private property shall be the first step towards the emancipation from alienation.
Along with the abolition of private property Marx also suggested that religion must be abolished. Both private property system and the system of God were simultaneously responsible for the alienation. Private property system means capitalism.
In Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts Marx elaborately analyses various aspects and forms of alienation.
“The criticism of alienation was not an end in itself for Marx. His aim was to pave the way for a radical revolution and for the realization of communism understood as the reintegration of man, his return to himself, the supersession of man’s self-alienation and the positive abolition of private property”.
The Communist Manifesto ends with the following declaration:
“The communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”