Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Question of Alienation

There are mainly four dimensions of alienation according to Marx. 1) The first dimension of alienation has to do with worker becoming alienated in relationship to the production of his labor. That is to say, the worker becomes detached from the result of his/her own labor, from the result of his/her working action, from his/her own product. 2) In the second dimension, alienation takes place during the process of production, while producing something. Worker can become alienated while producing something because the process of production in capitalist mode of production turns him/her into an idiot, to a machine-like person who performs the same action thousands of times during the day. 3) Thirdly, the worker becomes alien to himself/herself because he/she cannot really realize his/her potentials, his/her faculties, both intellectual and physical faculties and capabilities. Therefore, he/she cannot realize his existence in the human sense. He/she can realize only his animal faculties, such as eating, drinking, cohabiting, etc. 4) Finally, as a consequence of all these, that is, the worker becomes alienated from nature, from his/her faculties, and from his/her existence, he/she becomes alienated from other men as well.

The alienation issue is important for Marx because he considers human as a species that contains both animal and human faculties. For Marx, animal life is united with nature, and it is an instinctual life. Human life, on the other hand, is a combination of nature, spirit, conscious life and free will. Therefore with alienation humans loose their most of human faculties, and almost turn into an animal because being an alienated human, he/she can only utilize his/her animal faculties, such as drinking, eating, cohabiting, etc.

But alienation is not all about that. There is one more consequence in that matter. The question is if the product of labor is alien to the worker, if it confronts the worker as an alien power, then to whom does it belong? This is a crucial question because with the answer of this Marx develops a broader understanding of the implications of being alienated. Marx’s answer is that “if the product of labor does not belong to the worker, if it confronts him as an alien power, then this can only be because it belongs to some other man than the worker. If the worker’s activity is a torment to him, to another it must be delight and his life’s joy.”

And who is this other man than the worker?

“Through estranged, alienated labor, then, the worker produces the relationship to this labor of a man alien to labor and standing outside it. The relationship of the worker to labor creates the relation to it of the capitalist (or whatever one chooses to call the master of labor).”

From all this analysis of alienation, Marx comes to a conclusion about private property. He concludes that as a result of this alienation process as a whole private property begins to exist. Private property, as understood here, is the end product, the result of the labor of the worker, but it is not the worker’s property, instead it is the capitalist’s property. Worker, by working for the capitalist, produces a property for the capitalist; and this is how private property comes into existence. In this way, Marx again reverses the analysis of private property as it was done by the classical political economists. Also, philosophers, such as Hobbes and Locke, begin with the premise that private property, just as freedom, right to live, etc., is a natural right of humans, a right that exists without being dependent on any other external thing. It is a right that is gained by virtue of being a human being, according to Locke and Hobbes. As for the classical economists, as Marx argues, the private property again is the primary assumption from which further analysis is pursued. That is to say, it is the private property that exists first and then there may occur some kind of alienation. In this way, it seems like private property is the cause and alienation is the result. However, as Marx shows it, there is a reverse relationship here, that is, alienation is what exists in the first instance, and from that private property emerges. That’s why private property is not something natural, is not something that can be accepted, tolerated. It is the product of the labor of a worker, but it belongs to someone else, to the capitalist, and therefore, it cannot be acceptable.

“Private property is thus the product, the result, the necessary consequence, of alienated labor, of the external relation of the worker to nature and to himself. Private property thus results by analysis from the concept of alienated labor, of alienated man, of estranged labor, of estranged life, of estranged man. True, it as a result of the movement of private property that we have obtained the concept of alienated labor (of alienated life) from political economy. But on analysis of this concept it becomes clear that though private property appears to be the source, the cause of alienated labor, it is rather its consequence, just as the gods are originally not the cause but the effect of man’s intellectual confusion.”

Then, what is the cure for alienation? Because as a critical theorist, Marx does not feel satisfied by just explaining the phenomena, in addition, he also shows how this current situation can be changed and how an alternative situation, a better one, can be developed in its place.

Unrestrained economic competition leads more and more people to lose control of means of production, forcing them to submit to the labor market. So, the cure for alienation is not mere removal of political restrictions but the creation of a new kind of economy, based on common control of production in the interest of reciprocity, expressive work, and the satisfaction of the needs characteristics of cooperating human beings. It can be said that Marx tried to explain the roots of spiritual ills, both alienation and the one-sided personal development, through economy and division of labor.