Estranged Labor.

I. Introduction & background.

    Karl Marx was born in 1818, wrote the economic manuscripts in 1844, then wrote the Manifesto in 1848.  His major work was Capital, which he finished in 1865.  Marx died in 1885.

    The tradition Marx is working from is a response to ideal philosophy (mainly Hegel) that was current when he was writing. Marx wanted a theory of society that rested on the material aspects of life, and his work is centered around the the mode of production in any given society.   You can think of Marx as having three parts:  Marx the Philosopher, Marx the Economic theorist and Marx the Revolutionary.  We are focusing on the first two in this class.  His major philosophical ideas, about the essential alienation of the worker under a capitalist system and about what it means to be a fulfilled person are captured in this piece.

     It is important to keep in mind what Marx sees around him when he wrote this piece.  The industrial revolution was in full swing, in some of his other writings he greatly and carefully details the atrocities of early 19th century industrial capitalism.  He is convinced, and probably rightly so, that the condition of the workers under this system was determinate -- i.e. they couldn't CHOOSE to be elsewhere, the system of wages, the hours required to work, etc. all made the type of work necessary.
     The other thing to keep in mind is that Marx is ALSO working with ideal types:  i.e. he's saying "lets give capitalism everything it wants -- i.e. lets propose an perfect economy (i.e. all the assumptions of competition and such are true) what does this leave us with?  You see this even more in Capital than in the Early Manuscripts.

Key Terms.


The Argument:

Start with the 'actual fact' of estranged labor.

  "The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production increases in power and range.  The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more commodities he creates.  With the increasing value of the world of things proceeds in direct proportion the devaluation of the world of men. Labor produces not only commodities; it produces itself and the worker as a commodity -- and does so in the proportion in which it produces commodities generally." (p.71)

Marx is looking out at the world around him and watching the mode of production of his time (industrial capitalism) destroy people.  Theoretically, the first step in this destruction comes because the worker is alienated from his labor product.

The alienation from the labor product follows because under capitalism, every object is turned into a commodity -- into something that can be made an object of exchange.  Not only is the thing that a worker produces an object, but the worker is an object as well (the fact that wage capitalism leads to the need for more wage capitalism).

Alienation of labor, Marx's starting point,  means that what labor produces does not belong to him, it is ALIEN, and becomes so through objectification.

What constitutes the alienation of labor?

In essence, the first reason labor is alienating is that it exists outside the worker and is forced.  Work is something that a person does because they have to, not because they want to. (p.74, par 2).  As evidence, he says: "Its [work's] alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labor is shunned like the plague." -- i.e., people only work when forced to.  [Does this mean that if people work out of self-interest, for fun or enjoyment, that it would not be alienating?]. In the second reason, work is alienating because someone else controls the worker (can hire or fire him/her) and the work process (decides what to make and how to make it).

Therefore, The worker becomes a slave to his object.
       How?  (1) his labor becomes something outside of him, an object.
                  (2) It is converted to a means of subsistence (instead of an end in itself).

       He must now exist as a worker and a physical subject to the working process (i.e. he MUST work). The key is that if he does not work he starves.

Make sure you can explain what the following quote means:

"As a result, therefore, man (the worker) no longer feels himself to be freely active in any but his animal functions -- eating, drinking, procreating, or at most in his dwelling and in dressing-up, etc.;  and in his human functions he no longer feels himself to be anything but an animal.  What is animal becomes human, what is human becomes animal." (p.74)
If it is true that the worker is estranged from his product, what about the production process itself?  Marx says that if we are estranged from one, we must therefor be estranged from the other.

The estrangement that follows from process and product leads to an estrangement of self.  (i.e. process is the relation of the worker (his self) to his product).
Marx says that, "This relation [to the production process] is the relation of the worker to his own activity as an alien activity not belonging to him; it is activity as suffering, ...  Here we have self estrangement, as we had previously the estrangement of the thing."

In order to hold up this claim, he needs to introduce a new concept.  This concept links the working activity to the essence of the self, and he refers to it as the species being.

Enter "Species Being":
     Marx claims that an animal is immediately identical with its activity. What it is doing has NO other purpose than to fulfill immediate physical requirements, there is no SYMBOLIC, creative element to the activities of animals, which means there is no AUDIENCE to relate to.
    Mankind is conscious and lives life in-addition-to the requirements of immediate existence.  What separates us from 'lower' animals is the ability to keep simultaneously a realm of creation and meaning open and at the same time provide for our physical needs.

Mankind, on the other hand, produces even when he doesn't need to produce.  He produces under FREEDOM instead of under NECESSITY.

The single thing, then, that unites us as a group (be able to relate this to Durkheim's Common Consciousness) is that we all have the ability to create under freedom in common.

     Estranged labor, then, alienates mankind from the essentially human aspects of their nature -- the free creativity of one's labor is now  FORCED, STOLEN,
objectified labor.

Marx then says that an immediate consequence of being estranged from oneself and one's species is that we are estranged from each other.

Why?
    Two reasons:
    First, we have lost the thing in common that links us together -- the free creative moment.
    Second, because if my labor and my product do not belong to ME, then they must belong to someone else.  Who? Well, obviously,
OTHER MEN (p.78, par 4).  And this 'other' must be a non-worker.
    (a third reason, that he points to later in the text, is that workers will be estranged from each other due to competition for work.)

If some people work and others control labor, then there must be a mechanism, a means, by which the one can control the other.  That means is private property, and thus Marx argues, the factors of industrialized labor gives rise to capitalism.

Marx claims that private property is the necessary consequence of alienated labor -- of any form of production that results in a distinction between control of the labor product/process and control of the means of subsistence.  Private property is a consequence of the external relation of the worker to nature and himself, only later does this become a reciprocal (circular) effect.

Eventually, Marx claims, workers will come to see their position, will realize the inequity of their station and rise up to throw off their chains.  At least in this piece, it is not at all clear why this should in fact happen.

What does marx say about other solutions?  What if we paid everyone the same amount for their work -- i.e. what if we had perfect economic equality (or simply higher wages).

     He argues that this would simply be the same as paying the slave a higher wage, the essential element of estrangement is NOT the wages paid, but the forced, un-
freedom of it's production.  This is why he says we need a fundamentally free labor system.  The question is how do we get one and maintaining the functions necessary to hold a society together?  Is it possible to have 'free labor' and still fulfill all the tasks required to keep society together?  How?