The idea of alienation was developed by Karl Marx and it can be used to analyze the nature of human interaction in the current world. Alienation is widespread today and it can barely be witnessed in almost all societies. “Marx developed his theory of alienation to reveal the human activity that lies behind the seemingly impersonal forces dominating society” (Meszaros 45). Marx contends that the modern world is a product of past human activities.
He further explains that the future world will also be influenced by human activities. The materialist theory as put forward by Marx indicates that human beings were influenced by their societies. Marx believes that alienation is entrenched in materialism and not in religion or the psyche. However, Hegel and Feuerbach associated alienation with the former and not the latter. Alienation in essence meant loss of the capacity to have power over labor.
“Marx criticized the notion that humans possess a fixed nature regardless of their society” (Marx 398). He clearly explained how the myriad factors associated with the unchanging human character, vary considerably in various societies. He contended that the necessity to influence nature to fulfill human requirements was the only systematic aspect of all human cultures. Just like animals, people should work in order to stay alive. Nonetheless, human labor was differentiated from animal labor since human beings developed perception.
Ernest Fischer noted that human labor is unique since people consciously work on nature, and formulate new mechanisms of getting the items they require. Working on nature changes both the laborer and his environment. “Consequently, labor is a dynamic process through which the laborer shapes and moulds the world he lives in and stimulates himself to create and innovate” (Ollman 156). According to Marx, “the individual is the social being” (Ollman 157).
In this context, Marx implies that as people struggle to obtain their daily needs, they are all compelled to interact with others. Society is not merely comprised of people; it conveys the totality of relationships and connections that people find themselves in. labor makes people to interact physically with the world.
Development of humanity is partly determined by labor. Moreover, human relationships are a product of labor itself. “Our ability to work, to improve how we work and build on our successes, has tended to result in the cumulative development of the productive forces” (Macionis 456). This is what produced class society.
Surplus production caused division of societies into classes. This process was significant in developing and controlling dynamics of production. However, it also meant that most producers could no longer have control of other people’s labor. As a result, labor alienation emerged with social order.
“The emergence of class divisions in which one class had control over the means of producing what society needed, led to a further division between individuals and the society to which they belonged” (Marx 345). Even though alienation is persistent in the world, it can still be altered.
Alienation and Capitalism
“Alienation arose from the low level of the productive forces, from human subordination to the land and from the domination of the feudal ruling class” (Macionis 134). Nonetheless, these types of alienation exhibited some restrictions. For instance, peasants labored independently on their land, and produced their necessities within their autonomous family systems.
Capitalism had dynamics and constraints that were different from those of feudalism. The bourgeoisie envisaged a society where transactions could primarily be based on money. In this case, alienation is practiced through selling. In the capitalist society, many individuals were restrained from accessing the vital modes of production.
As such, the majority of people were rendered landless. This compelled them to sell their labor in order to meet their daily necessities. Hence, labor was commoditized and it could be sold just like other items in the market. “Capitalism involved a fundamental change in the relations between men, instruments of production and the materials of production” (Marx 234).
Production shifted from homes to factories. Division of labor came into sight with the onset of factory production, and it was really devastating. Workers became over dependent on the bourgeoisie, who dominated production. Forced labor also emerged because laborers had no influence in their jobs.
Alienation was worsened by capitalism. In this case, workers were extremely alienated from the items they produced. “Marx argued that the alienation of the worker from what he produces is intensified because the products of labor actually begin to dominate the laborer” (Macionis 367).
Part of a worker’s produce is embezzled by his employer. Therefore, the worker is continuously exploited. Workers also use their wages to purchase what they have produced themselves. The labor patterns today have been seriously fragmented by the current production models.
From this discussion, it is evident that alienation has consistently developed from the ancient world to present. At present, alienation is manifested clearly by the kind of interaction that prevails between modern industrialists and their laborers. In this parasitic interaction, the capitalists have a tight grip on production channels. Conversely, workers are only left with the option of selling their skills. Therefore, Marx’s alienation concept is relevant in examining the existing production systems.
Macionis, John. Sociology. New York: Pearson Prentice Hall, 1997.
Marx, Karl. Theories of Surplus Value. New York: Humanity Books, 2000.
Meszaros, Istvan. Marx’s Theory of Alienation. New York: Merlin Press, 1986.
Ollman, Bertell. Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in a Capitalist Society. London: Cambridge University Press, 1977.