Karl Marx - Capitalist Alienation
THE TERM "alienation" in normal usage refers to a feeling of separateness, of being alone and apart from others. For Marx, alienation was not a feeling or a mental condition, but an economic and social condition of class society--in particular, capitalist society.
Alienation, in Marxist terms, refers to the separation of the mass of wage workers from the products of their own labor. Marx first expressed the idea, somewhat poetically, in his 1844 Manuscripts: "The object that labor produces, its product, stands opposed to it as something alien, as a power independent of the producer."
Most of us own neither the tools and machinery we work with nor the products that we produce--they belong to the capitalist that hired us. But everything we work on and in at some point comes from human labor. The irony is that everywhere we turn, we are confronted with the work of our own hands and brains, and yet these products of our labor appear as things outside of us, and outside of our control.
Work and the products of work dominate us, rather than the other way around. Rather than being a place to fulfill our potential, the workplace is merely a place we are compelled to go in order to obtain money to buy the things we need.
"Hence," Marx wrote, "the worker feels himself only when he is not working; when he is working, he does not feel himself. He is at home when he is not working, and not at home when he is working. His labor is, therefore, not voluntary but forced, it is forced labor.
"It is, therefore, not the satisfaction of a need but a mere means to satisfy needs outside itself. Its alien character is clearly demonstrated by the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, it is shunned like the plague."
In capitalist production, goods are produced for the market in order to get a profit. What matters for...