There is no denying that Karl Marx (1818-1883), German political theorist and revolutionary, is one of the most important and influential thinkers ever lived. Marx is accepted as the founder of Communism and Dialectical Materialism and known with his huge contribution to different social science branches such as political philosophy, economics and sociology. Marxism or Communism is not a simple ideology; it has its own understanding of religion, sociology, politics, human nature and economics. Because of its comprehensive nature and solid ideas, Marxism is said to be like a religion for many people. However, many other scholars accept Marxism as a scientific method that is still alive, in motion and applicable to new conditions, new conflicts of the world’s political-economic system. Karl Marx was a very productive writer; he wrote many books and articles with his lifetime colleague and friend Friedrich Engels but especially two of these books became symbols of them and also of the communist ideology: Das Kapital (The Capital) and The Manifesto of the Communist Party.
Marx’s theory, although called by some people as a utopia, is a theory of historical economic development that is based on dialectical materialism method. Marx believed that all societies have been changing by passing from different stages of history and the mode of production determines the nature of these stages. For example, according to Marx after the stage of primitive capitalism, societies have passed to feudalist stage. There was the struggle of rich landowners and peasants in this stage. The next stage was capitalism in which we see two classes struggling with each other: Proletariat (workers) and Bourgeois (capitalists, those who control the means of production). Marx expected the revolution of the proletariat class and global establishment of the first stage of Communism; that is Socialism. In other words, Marx thought that from the conflict between bourgeois (thesis) and proletariat (anti-thesis) classes, Socialism would emerge as the synthesis. Unlike Hegel, Marx thought that substructure or infrastructure (economic conditions and the mode of production) determines the superstructure and leaps in history are caused by the changes in the substructure. Marx thinks that capitalism will fall naturally because there are some inherent conflicts like the alienation of labour, overproduction, shortage, inequality of the allocation of resources and commodity fetishism in a capitalist society. Marx also saw capitalism as a positive step from transition to feudalism and in the way of Socialism. Marx perceived human beings as economic units and called them homo economicus. He tried to theorize and create a society in which economical equality will take place as well as political and social equality with the state ownership of property and equal distribution of resources according to needs and capabilities.
The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 is an important book which was not published during Marx’s lifetime. The book could be published barely in 1927, forty-four years after Marx’s death. “1844 Manuscripts” is a really precious book for analyzing Marx’s transition from Hegelianism to his own ideology as well as the replacement of philosophical dominance by the supremacy of rigid political economy analyses of Marx. We can find traces of his ideas that he would declare four years later on 1848 by publishing “The Manifesto of the Communist Party”. In this assignment, I am going to analyze “Estranged Labour” and “Private Property and Communism” chapters of the book and I will discuss some Marxist arguments.
Contrary to Marx’s arrangement in the book, I would like to start by analyzing his conception of the human nature. Although in this book, he does not elaborate his views on the nature of human beings clearly, we know that Marxist thought has its own understanding of human nature which is contrary to other philosophers’ ideas including Thomas Hobbes, John Locke etc. Marxists believe that human beings are basically good, communal creatures who are corrupted by the system in the historical evolution of societies. They give the example of primordial or tribal communism to show that human nature is basically good and there were no such things as classes and inequalities in tribes where agriculture is not developed. Marxists also do not accept the view that humans by their nature are selfish and power-seeking.
In relation with his human nature conception, in “1844 Manuscripts” Marx introduces us the concept of “species-being”. According to Marx, “man is a species being, not only because in practice and in theory he adopts the species as his object, but – and this is only another way of expressing it – also because he treats himself as a universal and therefore a free being” (Marx, pg 112). Marx tries to show the differences between animals and humans by this conception. According to Marx, animals are concerned with their immediate needs like eating, sleeping etc. whereas men need many more things such as spiritual and social nourishment in addition to their vital needs. In other words, animals have only organic parts whereas human beings possess both organic and inorganic parts. In Marx’s view, the universality of men comes from men’s ability to make all nature his inorganic body both as direct means and instruments of their lives (Marx, pg 112). Men have the ability to control and administer the nature unlike animals and they do not only live only for their vital needs. Animals produce only for themselves for their immediate needs instinctively contrary to men who can truly produce only in freedom consciously without urgent concerns (Marx, pg 113). However, in a capitalist state because of the estrangement of labour men begin to live like animals just for their life activities. That is why men lose their privileges of having conscious and free lives and resemble to animals in a capitalist state. “Estranged labour reverses this relationship, so that it is just because man is a conscious being that the makes his life activity, his essential being, a mere means to his existence” (Marx, pg 113). But why men animalize in a capitalist state and what is the estranged labour?
In “Estranged Labour” chapter Marx analyzes the nature of capitalist system and tries to describe the alienation of proletariat class after criticizing the political economy understanding of that time which does not analyze the labour part but solely focuses on the capital aspect. As far as Marx is concerned, the existence of private property and capitalist mode of production are accepted without any questions in political economy like the original sin conception in the Christian religion (Marx, pg 107). Moreover, in his view political economy does not recognize the unoccupied worker. “The cheat-thief, swindler, beggar, and unemployed; the starving, wretched and criminal workingman – these are figures who do not exist for political economy…” (Marx, pg 121). Marx claims that in a capitalist system society is basically divided into two classes: the property owners and propertyless workers. Under these conditions, workers not only suffer from impoverishment but also experience an alienation from the world. Marx calls this as “estranged labour” and asserts that a worker’s labour, which is an extension of him, is stolen and the system tears the worker apart. According to Karl Marx, “the worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production increases in power and size” (Marx, pg 107). This is caused by the alienation of workers which happen in four different ways.
First of all, in the capitalist mode of production, labour becomes independent of its producer as something alien. Marx calls this as the objectification of labour. Although a worker’s labour is his own, in capitalism it transforms into something material, hostile to its producer. The worker does not have right to possess what he produces. “The more man puts into God, the less he retains in himself. The worker puts his life into the object; but now it no longer belongs to him, it belongs to the object. The greater this activity, therefore, the greater the worker’s lack of objects”. He only works to satisfy his vital needs by the wage he is taking and produces a surplus value for the owner. Worker thus, is alienated from the product of his work. “So much does objectification appear as loss of the object that the worker is robbed of the objects most necessary not only for his life but for his work” (Marx, pg 108). Moreover, the worker uses his labour not as means of life but as an object for things he could not possess. Thus, his physical substance and labour are wasted and the worker becomes the slave of his object (Marx, pg 109). The energy spent by the worker is not for him but for the object. For Marx, this is nothing but “coerced, or forced labour” (Marx, pg 111). We can also say that when the worker is not the recipient of what he produces, he lacks his identity and that is why estranged from his labour.
Secondly, worker is estranged from the activity of production in capitalist system. Worker performs a duty that does not belong to him but to another person, a capitalist for his survival. His working activity is not the consequence of his will but rather it is caused from his need to satisfy his vital needs. “Lastly, the external character of labour for the worker appears in the fact that it is not his own, but someone else’s, that it does not belong to him, that in it he belongs, not to himself, but to another” (Marx, pg 111). Marx says that just as religion claims the role of God in human behaviours, the activity of production is considered to be someone else’s outside (above) property and the worker loses his self during the production process. In addition to his labour, the worker is also estranged from his job.
Thirdly, in relation with the second type of estrangement, the worker is alienated from his true nature as a species being in the capitalist system. As I stated before, according to Marx, men differ from animals in acting not only for their vital needs, but also for many different reasons (spiritual nourishment or for fun maybe). However, in capitalist type of production the sole reasons of men’s labour becomes satisfying his vital needs similar to animals. Productive life of men is replaced by a life-engendering type of production. In other words, estranged labour makes the life of species a means of individual life. Moreover, it makes the individual life the purpose of the life of species. “In estranging from man nature and himself, his own active functions, his life activity, estranged labour estranges the species from man” (Marx, pg 112).
Fourthly, the capitalist mode of production also estranges men from other men. Since most of the people are workers but there are few capitalists who own the means of production, hostility appears between human beings. “An immediate consequence of the fact that man is estranged from the product of his labour, from his life activity, from his species being is the estrangement of man from man” (Marx, pg 114). The worker realizes that he works for the enrichment of his patron and antagonistic feelings start between two sides. So, on these four level, the workers estranges from his labour, his job, humanity and other men according to Karl Marx. He also adds that even if workers are paid more, it would be nothing but “better payment for the slave” (Marx, pg 118). Furthermore, Marx says that in a capitalist system wages are arranged to keep workers alive with the motive of exploiting their labour more and more. “The wages of labour have thus exactly the same significance as the maintenance and servicing of any other productive instrument…” (Marx, pg 121).
In Marxist view, the private property, which seems to be the cause of this mode of production, is in reality the consequence of capitalism. “But on analysis of this concept it becomes clear that though private property appears to be the source, the cause of alienated labour, it is rather its consequence, just as the gods are originally not the cause but the effect of man’s intellectual confusion” (Marx, pg 117). In order to get rid of this estrangement problem, what Marx proposes is the abolition of private property. By doing this, Marx believes not only workers but the whole humanity would be saved. “From the relationship of estranged labour to private property it follows further that the emancipation of society from private property etc. from servitude, is expressed in the political form of the emancipation of the workers; not that their emancipation alone at the stake, but because the emancipation of the workers contain universal human emancipation – and it contains this, because the whole of human servitude is involved in the relation of the worker to production, and every relation of servitude is but a modification and consequence of this relation” (Marx, pg 118). Marx’s solution to all these problems is to abolishment of private property and the emergence of a state which would control the means of production and would not allow classes to emerge. Marx’ mistake can be said not be aware of the emergence of a new bureaucratic class in this kind of a state and new class based conflicts.
When we analyze Marx’s views, we can say that he conceptualizes labour as an integral part of men. He is not only against the poverty of workers but against to the very existence of capitalist mode of production. In this respect, we can find the traces of John Locke’s labour theory in his thinking. Locke also asserts that the criterion for having something is to need this thing and to put labour which improves this thing. However, Marx is completely against property except people’s need to use properties. In this respect, his ideas can be considered as close to anarchism, a utopian state in which there would not be the necessity of a government. Marx thought that this can be achieved only after the Socialist period during which people would gain intellectual and behavioural maturity of Communism. Of course, we know that Marx never left a blueprint of a Socialist state and real Socialist experiences in the world are shaped by Leninism-Stalism or Maoism theories, models. In his conceptualization, considering that the number of proletariat would be the very majority in the near future, Marx accepts workers as symbolic of all mankind and identifies workers’ emancipation with the emancipation of humanity. Marx can be said to bring both an ethical dimension to capitalist system by focusing on the alienation, dehumanization of workers. We see a similar approach in Karl Polanyi’s famous work “The Great Transformation”. The selling of human’s labour as a product in the market disturbs these two important philosophers.
Finally, in my opinion, “The Economic Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844” is a very important work to understand the evolution of Marx’s thoughts. We see that by this work, Marx had started to form his precise ideas about capitalism and private property. He was also disturbed of his epoch’s political economy understanding which focuses only on the capital level, does not the rising proletariat class that have many problems. Marx successfully foresaw the effect on Industrial Revolution and the strengthening of workers as a class and created a very original theory based on his own scientific method. We should also mention that Marx never considered his ideology as a utopia and said “would be” instead of “should be”. Whatever our ideology is, we should admit that in understanding the nature of capitalism Karl Marx helps us a lot by his original works.
- Marx, Karl, “The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844”
- Marx, Karl, 1993, “The Portable Karl Marx”,
: Penguin Books London
- Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com
- Mandel, Ernest, 1999, “Marksizme Giriş”, İstanbul: Yazın Yayıncılık
 Communism: A theoretical economic system characterized by the collective ownership of property and by the organization of labor for the common advantage of all members. (www.dictionary.com)
 Dialectical Materialism: The Marxian interpretation of reality that views matter as the sole subject of change and all change as the product of a constant conflict between opposites arising from the internal contradictions inherent in all events, ideas, and movements. (www.dictionary.com)
 “Demek ki sınıflara bölünmüş toplum, toprağın ve üretim araçlarının özel mülkiyeti, hiç de insan tabiatının değil ürünü değil, toplumun ve iktisadi ve toplumsal kurumların bir evriminin ürünüdür” (Mandel, Ernest, “Marksizme Giriş”, sayfa 17).
 “İngiliz antropologları Hobhouse, Wheeler ve Ginsberg 425 ilkel kabilede toplumsal kurumları inceledikten sonra tarımı bilmeyen bütün kabilelerde toplumsal sınıfların tamamen mevcut olmadığını tespit etmişlerdir” (Mandel, Ernest, “Marksizme Giriş”, sayfa 21).
 Marx, Karl, “The Portable Marx”, pg 134