Alienated Labor By Karl Marx Essay, Research Paper
Few philosophers viscerally strike a chord with their readers, regardless of the subject in question. Yet there is something within Marx’s essay, Alienated Labor, that is able to communicate directly to working people laboring even over one-hundred and fifty years subsequent to its publication. There is good reason for this: Marx elucidated a theory of labor in which workers become subservient to the objects they produce, a theory where people are not exalted by their labor, but devalued by it. Marx’s concept of alienated labor describes the internal conflict and disparity of workers, be they from the 19th or 21st century, when their existence is contingent upon fulfilling the desires and wants of another and neglecting their own.
An understanding of the etymological origin of the word alien is requisite to understanding Marx’s essay. Alien stems from the Latin adjective (sometimes used as a pronoun) alienus, aliena, alienum, denoting that the noun being modified by alienus, a, um, belongs ‘of or to another.’ When thought of in this context, Marx not only suggests that human labor is hostile, indifferent and estranged, but that it also does not belong to the one who is laboring. That is, the ownership of one’s labor is transferred, not through due course of law or any other such institution, to another person by the act of laboring itself.Exponentials of AlienationMarx commences his essay by maintaining that workers’ miseries are directly proportional to their level of production; the more value workers attribute to their product, by virtue of their labor, the more miserable they become. Workers themselves are a commodity and the greater the value of their production, the cheaper a commodity they become. “The increase in the value of the world of things is directly proportional to the decrease in value of the human world.” The end result of labor is its objectification into a thing, and the value of labor lies only in its objectification.However, the product of labor is in opposition of labor itself; it is an alien thing. Laborers, then, have no relation to the end result of their labors. Herein lies Marx’s first classification of the alienation of labor. A product of labor is only created by virtue of laborers placing their lives, through work, into an object. It follows from this that laborers then are no longer in possession of the life which they have imbued their products and that it now belongs solely to the product. The greater the amount of life a workers place into an object, the less life left to them. The object therefore is given an external existence outside of the worker solely on account of the life, usurped from laborers, with which it was created. The object’s life then confronts the laborer, and is ‘hostile and alien.’Many workers have empirical reasons to validate Marx’s claim. Whether one labors in a coal mine or in a cubicle, the product of one’s labor is set off against those who had a part in its production. Neither the mined coal nor the software programmed belongs in the least to those responsible for its existence and value. In addition, the more coal one mines or the more efficient the program, the greater the value of the product and consequently the greater the degradation of the value of its creators. In each scenario, the product of labor is alien to laborers and serves only to attenuate the life of its creators.