The main focal point of Karl Marx’s work was the way society works and how the institutions in society work together or rather how they do not. Marxism is based on conflict theories and ideas, Marx looks into many aspects of society and I will be focusing on the aspect that is capitalism and the relation with alienation. He developed this concept from Hegal’s work which he was much influenced by. Hegal then described the term alienation as we now know it as estrangement referring to the same ideas that Marx had.
I will attempt to critically analyse the relation between the two concepts. I will try to analyse how and where alienation derived from and whether it exist (ed) I will first concentrate on the concept of alienation and all the branches within and then capitalist society in Marx’s view. I will distinguish how both alienation and capitalism is interconnected and whether it has any relevance to society as we see it today, namely Briton.
Marx’s main theories derive from a capitalist society he held the belief that capitalism was born through the relations that the bourgeoisie had with their means of production and the relation that labourer’s have with their products that they made, this capitalist ideology developed from the feudal societies when free labour existed, as in, a labourer was not emotionally forced to work but worked as an exchange of system such as living on the riches land and worked for them in return.
Marx proposed a term primitive accumulation which he used to describe official change from the feudal societies to a capitalist one. The development process of this change begins when the owner is interested in surplus value and then oppression occurs, where the worker produces more however the wages remain the same and so the owner only benefits. The surplus value was discovered by the owners of the production, where the upper class decided that a commodity needed to be produced and would cost less, to buy the raw materials and to make as well but could turn a good profit, just like any business.
The working class were gathered as if they themselves were a product to purchase, however Marx viewed this as the worker had his labour to give and to earn a wage in return so it was an equal exchange to begin with. The bourgeoisie were in full swing making profit and opposite to this the worker became resentful and tired of his job as it was not leading to a positive outcome. This then developed in to alienation Marx’s notion was that waking up and making a piece of furniture was a controlling factor to the labourer, he cannot quit as he does not have a choice but to labour. I will emphasize on this later).
As capitalism developed all the aspects of it were interconnected such as the work place, the worker and the owner, these relationships were intertwined as one needed the other, even though we can argue that one group benefits more. Marx believed that capitalism existed and needed to exist in order for society to work, there had to be a hierarchical system, in terms of working for the owners. (Slavery was not involved).
But the workers had the power to sell their labour and maybe have a little control of who they worked for, unless choice of workplace was limited and so mentally directed to certain areas of work i. e factory manual jobs or craftsmen. From this alienation emerges, as mentioned above the property owners or bourgeoisie see an opportunity for surplus value, therefore the worker produces more of this product as instructed, and this product is an useful item for consumption by humans in general so this product has a worth value, hence the more produced the better the value.
In spite of this the worker has his product that he manufactured both increase in value and produce, this then reduces the labour value, he continues to produce as this entity is earning him a living. The worker then descends to emotional and physical stress as he’s unhappy at work as there is no progress and no way of working up in to a position which will earn him a better living or status. There is no incentive to do better to get somewhere, thus the worker stays at the basic level of manufacturing just to get by.
He does not have the choice to leave his job as the risks are great. Then this level of feeling and thinking advances to the notion that the product that is being manufactured is determining his well being and choices in life. The worker has no connection with the end product so the worker cannot feel proud of a whole object that he produced but a part of it. This is described as alienation by Marx. Further to this notion Marx points out that this external factor is taking over the worker, leaving the worker helpless and weak ( Morrison. K, 1998) formations of modern thought)
So to sum it up the labourer is alienated in his work, which Marx takes it further and suggests that if the worker is alienating himself from the product in his hands, then the whole process or activity of the product becomes alienated to him as well. For example going to work and making a piece of clothing, the clothes is the product which makes the worker feel alienated and is controlling his welfare, so this means that the going into work turns into “alienation of activity” (Marx, Morrison, pg93). Making the piece of cloth, sewing it and so on is then external and a controller to the worker.
So this complete feeling of alienation: the emotional stress and dislike of the job which does not lead him (worker) anywhere such as a promotion or pay rise. One of the common and simple ways to describe alienation is money… man creates this object and gives it a name this object called money ends up controlling the same man that produced it and gave it life. We has humans wake up every day for money go to work to make money, go to university to get a good job which gives us good money. This object money controls our future and the way we make it to the future as well, so it becomes external to us.
Feuerbach described the alienation of religion, which he received much criticism for, similar to the money example he believed that humans created a faith and all things surrounding this idea he goes on to say that humans put all their energy into creating this great thing called religion and God, but really it turns out that God and religion controls you and creates you not the other way round. So faith tells you how to live eat and dress… tells you what to do, the thing that you humans once created. As well as being influenced Feuerbach’s writings he also criticised some of his work. Morrison . K 1998)
Marx had many aspects of alienation, he talks about alienation from another man/human/worker he explains this: the worker produces to earn money which means the more produced the more wage. Therefore this idea of thinking develops into a competitive activity, the worker wants to do better then his fellow employees which then leads the competitor to be individual and with a feeling of needing to survive; and the other workers are then external to him which in the end means that the worker is alienated from his fellow workers, he is individualised.
From alienation of activity Marx proposes the term objectification, referring to self efficacy. The workers being able to actualise their existence in both a negative and positive way. The realisation of alienation also the way they can and should be in terms of being in control and internalising in society and having a meaning to life through goals and ambitions. (Livingstone & Benton. 1992) In terms of criticising Marx’s work in alienation the main question arises: is his theory relevant to post modern society or just to the 18th century?
Well, several people will agree completely with Marx as many are likely to dislike their jobs then not as most of the times it is a means to an end. For example factory work is viewed as a low status job and could be taken on during tough times for a short period as it unskilled manual work. These types of labour are monotonous with no real promotions or opportunities to further one’s self in the workplace. These jobs are tiring, boring and holds no future for the workers which makes them dislike work but they cannot quit as they do not have the choice because they need to survive.
This type of attitude can be more associated with the lower or underclass people in today’s society as they do not already have the money or the freedom of choosing were they work. Similar to the people in Marx’s time. Another problem of not being able to work where someone wants to, because of their race, ethnicity and faith which minimises their choices. On the other hand we can argue against the above point because as society has developed more, there is a more interest in the employees and their well being in the work place.
People have more choices and opportunities in were to work and also numerous opportunities are available to improve and make a career out of a once part time job. Many employers offer training to become bigger and better. This is compared to 50 or more years ago where a teenage boy did not have a choice of where to work but his father’s farm when he was older because he would have been bound by tradition or lack of choice available to him.
Society today cares about the future and the people who are going to be there are invested in such as children, education standards are always revised and improved, there is countless help and advice available to people who go into employment. Society and the government care more then they did when Marx proposed his ideas, alienation is not so relevant because the concept of job satisfaction has been introduced to employers. Companies are always trying to improve the lifestyle at work and take on the workers ideas to continue improving.
In addition to this employees have the prospect of going into managerial positions. Productivity is improved through incentives for example meeting set targets gives the worker a bonus so people are more motivated to do better. Most sectors of work recognises individual input in to a project and are rewarded for their work and encouraged to do more good work wherever they may work. In terms of theoretical criticisms, Weber points out that Marx highlights too much on society and how society is illogical and irrational with relevance to class and power.
Weber did not completely agree with capitalism, he believed there was little conflict which contributed to the class struggle and class difference, but shared the view that the conflict was due to the owners of production. Weber argues that Marx’s ideas are all related he speaks of materialism production and economic gain as one but should be treated as separate feature in his writings. “fails to… distinguish between what is strictly economic, what is economically determined and what is economically relevant” (Gerth & Wright Mills from Max Weber -47).
Weber suggests that Marx simplifies the conflicts which exist between classes but are more complex in Weber’s view. Weber moves on to alienation and he implies that the feeling of alienation is one of normalcy and which is or maybe should be common amongst workers in all types of work, “the modern soldier is equally separated from the means of violence” (Gerth & Wright Mills pg 50). Again Weber suggests that Marx makes a point but emphasises on the issue too much as if it were a crisis. In general Weber believed that Marx’s work and some features of his work were given too much thought when not necessary.
Weber believed more on bureaucracy and how government and law controlled actions and behaviours in society. From a feminist perspective, Marx did not mention women and whether they felt alienated in domestic labour or child rearing, however during his time women were seen as second class citizens in the background. Marx may have felt that the concept of alienation was of much importance because a person and his future was determined by his job. The question of whether alienation exists or is relevant is still debatable and depends on many factors i. e type of job.