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. Marxism is not a simple ideology, it has its own understanding of religion, sociology, politics and economics. Because of its comprehensive nature and solid ideas, Marxism is said to be like a religion. Karl Marx was a very productive writer; he wrote many books with his friend Friedrich Engels but one of these books became the symbol of him, and also communism: Das Capital (The Capital). Marx’s theory, although called by some people as a utopia, is a theory of economic development history that is based on dialectical materialism. Marx believes that all societies change by passing from different stages and the type of means of production determine these stages. For example, according to Marx after the primitive capitalism societies passed to feudalism. 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 have means of production). Marx expects the revolution of proletariat class and global establishment of first stage of communism that is socialism. In other words, from the conflict between bourgeois (thesis) and proletariat (anti-thesis) socialism will emerge as the synthesis. Marx thinks that capitalism will fall because there are some inherent conflicts like alienation of labour, overproduction, shortage, inequality of the allocation of resources and commodity fetishism in a capitalist society. Marx perceives human beings as economic units and calls them homo economicus. He tries to create a society in which economical equality will take place with state ownership and equal distribution of resources. In this assignment, it will be shown that non-alienated labour is impossible in a wild capitalist society and we need a peaceful cooperation of labour and capital (social democracy) for preventing uneasiness and injustices. In order to reach this conclusion, Marx’s ideas about the alienation of labour will be explained in detail. I will later put forward my own ideas related to the topic.
Except creating the world’s most controversial ideology, Marx created many new terms, ideas in relation with his theory. Alienation of labour is one of these important terms granted to political economy by Karl Marx. He also calls this as externalisation. By these terms Marx tries to tell us that in a wild capitalist society proletariat class’ activity as being worker prevent them to belong to them, to act and live like free individuals. He explains this with a good analogy. “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” (Marx, p. 134). Marx claims that in a capitalist society a worker’s meaning changes and he/she becomes a productive tool rather than a human being. In a sense, he/she is alienated from himself because not only his work but also his very being becomes a production mean. So, a worker becomes a slave in two respects: first, in that he receives an object of labour, second, in that he receives the means of subsistence. Marx believes that this is an inherent consequence of capitalism. Now, let us analyse how workers are alienated in a capitalist society and what constitutes alienation of labour according to Marx.
As far as Karl Marx is concerned, being a worker in the capitalist system will definitely lead to alienation of labour because workers will not have chance to possess materials, products that they produced with their own hands. Their meanings of life become the profit of their bosses, the increase of company’s share. In a sense they will lose their identity as human beings. They have to work all day and to rest at home in order to wake up the next day’s morning. They do not have any chance to develop their mental or physical skills and for surviving they should continue to live this life of vicious circle. A worker also destroys his body and wastes his mind in this kind of a system. Marx asserts that this is nothing but coerced or forced labour. “The worker, therefore, feels himself only outside his work, and feels beside himself in his work. He is at home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home. His work therefore is not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labour” (Marx, p. 136). According to Marx, this kind of a life will only function workers’ animal parts. A worker will feel like an animal because he will have chance to satisfy only his animal needs not any mental needs. His activities, his job will become obligatory and he will lose the greatest quality of being a human: consciousness. This is the exact thing that separates a human from an animal. “Conscious life activity distinguishes man directly from the life activity of an animal.” (Marx, p. 139) So, a worker will be externalised from his nature, from being a human. This will also spoil human relations because like the way “A man confronts himself, he confronts another man”. (Marx, p. 140)
Marx believes that alienation of labour is not the only problem of capitalism. Marx also does not trust in market forces. He thinks that capitalism will face with problems like overproduction (surplus), shortage and rejects theories like invisible hand of Adam Smith. This will be caused because of the lack of planning in economy. That is why. all socialist countries that were established on the basis of Marxism, introduced command economies and made 5 years plans called gosplans. In addition to these market problems, Marx argues that capitalists will try to transform people into consumers for increasing their profit. It is not very surprising that we live in a world dominated by firms, brands, advertisements and commodity fetishism. Moreover, injustices will increase with the maturing of capitalism because some firms will become monopolies. What makes alienation of labour so inevitable for Marx can be easily demonstrated by this conflict. The profit of capitalists is based on the non-profit of workers. If a patron gives more salaries to workers, his profit will fall.
Now, I want to manifest my own ideas about capitalism and the alienation of labour. I think that Marx is right about his arguments in a wild capitalist society like in Europe during the early Industrial Revolution period. It is not surprising that Marx and Engels formed their theories after analysing the situation of English proletariat in Engels’ father’s factory in England. During these years, workers throughout the world were living in terrible conditions. They had to work for all day at very low prices. This kind of capitalism for sure causes alienation of worker class. Problems in German economy and worker class caused the death of millions with the emergence of a bloody dictator Adolf Hitler. It is very normal that when you make effort and create something by your own hands, you want to own what you created. Creating something, creativity is for me one of the most respectable activities that humans can make. So, this should be rewarded with a good salary and also with insurance against dangers of injury. Making a lot of efforts and gaining only money for food of course will be a great injustice. Humans are different from animals and need to satisfy their mental needs as well as physical ones. So, every individual should be given enough time and money to deal with their hobbies. Education system should be open to all and should try to orientate people according to their skills, interest instead of brainwashing and raising sheeps for the flock.
We should accept that capitalism won the war against Marxism and became widespread. In addition, capitalism gets stronger through globalisation. In my opinion, what was making and still makes capitalism so strong is the emergence of new compromising ideologies like social democracy. Although social democracy takes its roots from Marxism, social democracy has been successful in creating cooperation and agreement between labour and capital. New laws like minimum wage, leisure time, social security, the right of holiday, the right of strike and demonstration reduced the level injustices and oppression on worker class. In my opinion, especially in developed countries of Europe workers are not that alienated starting from the 1950’s. They have enough leisure time; they have now chance to develop their physical and mental skills. Furthermore, they acquire enough money to be able to live honourably. When they accumulate capital with the help of strong banking-finance system, they can make investment and to gain more. I should also admit that the number of workers reduced enormously in the last few decades because contrary to Marx’s prediction we moved from capitalist society to information age in which computers and the internet became driving forces. Nowadays, due to mechanization in heavy industries, less people work at factories. Instead people work for programming, coding and advertisement. In addition, workers are not left behind because the states offer free education and health services for their citizens. Social democrat parties who are very successful in European countries organize the state according to “equality of opportunity” principle. Thus, all groups, classes and individuals are given somehow equal chances to develop themselves and to have comfortable lives. However, the situation is not like this in all countries. In developing countries where free-market system and democracy are not settled good enough, the worker class still has serious problems. They do not have enough time to get rest. More importantly, their wages are still very low. In addition, due to unemployment problem people accept to work at prices lower than minimum wage and without insurance. Maybe for these countries we can say that capitalism still causes alienation of labour.
- Marx, Karl, 1993, “The Portable Karl Marx”, London: Penguin Books
- Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com
 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.
 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.