, Research Paper
Marx and His Theory of Alienation
Marx wrote “On The Jewish Question” in 1844. It was a written response to Bauer’s works. In his works, Bauer said that Jews should give up their religion and fight for their civil rights. Bauer believed the Jews should become emancipated from the Germans and Christians. Marx contradicted this entire belief through the idea that civil emancipation does truly emancipate.
In “On the Jewish Question,” Marx went on to criticize the liberal notion of universal human rights. These rights were directly related to the emancipation problem. Since Bauer believed in universal human rights, he believed that everybody should be emancipated and that those rights justified the emancipation. Marx disagreed.
Marx believed in a different justification for emancipation. He believed in emancipation from alienation. This could be achieved through an idea called Communism. Marx talked about this emancipation in his theory of alienation.
Marx’s theory of alienation can be broken down into for main aspects. Mans separation from his work, his products, other men, and lastly, his potential (Ollman 483). The theory of alienation deals mainly with the pitfalls of Capitalism. By pointing out the problems of capitalism, Marx is able to offer his solution which is Communism. So not only is Marx’s theory an attack on Capitalism, but it is more importantly a praise of Communism. Capitalism alienates society, whereas Communism unifies society
There are many products of alienation but the main ones are property and industry, which Marx calls “alienated life elements” (Ollman 483). As we know industry and property are probably the two most important aspects of a Capitalist society. Industry is the most alienating of the “life elements.” Industry forces men to work and makes their lives miserable. Marx believes that we fulfill ourselves through our work. The need to work is a basic necessity of mankind. Capitalism corrupts this need into unfulfilling labor. The labor which man produces is not done for the well being of himself. Since man does not have control over what he makes, he is alienating himself from his work. The product which is produced is taken from the worker and used for the betterment of the Capitalist, or the owner of the industry. Since the worker does not control the form of labor, the intensity, the duration, or the end products, it in no way can be called his work. He works only to serve the capitalist, therefore alienating himself from his work.
Since man is alienated from his work, he is therefore alienated from the product of his labor. The more the worker alienates himself through his work, the more distance is found between the worker and the product. The product cannot be used by the worker for himself. It is given to the Capitalist who benefits from it. The more time the worker spends on the product and the more labor devoted to it, the more the benefit for the Capitalist.
Since the Capitalist benefits and the worker does not, the worker is alienated from his fellowmen. The Capitalist owns the product; as a result, hostility arises between the worker and the employer. This hostility promotes people to use and abuse each other. The Communist essence which is a natural feeling associated with mankind is lost.
Lastly and most importantly, the worker is alienated from his potential. Since there is no incentive for the worker to work hard, his full potential will never be reached. The worker is producing labor with no net gains for himself. There is no need for him to work up to his potential. This is the final step in becoming an alienated citizen of a Capitalist society. The alienation has produced a worker who, does not work up to his potential and whose soul purpose is to benefit the Capitalist.
Marx’s criticism of the Capitalist society does have some valid arguments but overall, it is wrong. While every society creates alienated citizens, Capitalism would be the least alienating. The reason people work in a Capitalist society is to better their lives. While the degree to which people better their lives differs, sometimes greatly, the opportunity for betterment is still there.
Workers do not work in for the sole purpose of serving the Capitalists. They work because of the incentives provided by a Capitalist society. The main incentive, is the opportunity to climb the social ladder. This opportunity cannot be found in Communism. In a Communist society, you are born into a role and you are forced to play that role your entire life. This is not true under capitalism, where a person can be born into a dirt poor family, but still become a successful businessperson. The political emancipation found in Capitalism, is true emancipation. People are free to do whatever they want. Most importantly the can choose to work. The fallacy of the theory of alienation is that it assumes people are forced to work. In a Capitalist society, you don’t have to work if you don’t want to. The aura of the social ladder is what drives people to work in a Capitalist society.