Alienation in Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto
Alienation is a core aspect of Marxist thinking. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels argue in The Communist Manifesto that capitalism is the cause alienation. The theory is that the estrangement, or alienation, of people, is a consequence of living in a society with social classes. Social classes lead humans to be separated from each other and ultimately from themselves. Marx and Engels argue that capitalism causes workers to be alienated from others due to class struggle, their act of producing and from the human species. Throughout The Communist Manifesto, it is shown that capitalism worsens the alienation of the worker from each of these aspects. As communism offers a unity between workers, alienation, for Marx and Engels, is an effect of capitalism and its exploitation of the Proletariat and communism is the solution that they offer.
The Communist Manifesto writes, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto 10). The idea of class is a struggle for anyone who is being oppressed by the confines of social class. This struggle is what has formed the society that Marx and Engels live in. The authors argue that history is a constant battle, “…now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending class” (10). This fight is due to alienation and oppression. Those who are being oppressed feel alienated, leading them to revolt against their oppressors. Marx and Engels use these examples from history to show how capitalism has led to revolution and war, “freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman…” (10). Why are these people being separated? It is due to social classes. Capitalism leads those in power to take what they can from the weaker party. This idea of class creates an unfair system for those in the lower class. They write, “our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinctive feature: it has simplified the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat” (10). The thing that the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat have in common is that they are opposing each other. The Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat rely on one another but it is the workers that feel the alienation from the other as they get less out of this relationship. The upper class gets the benefits of the lower class workers while the lower class does not receive the same reward for their harder physical labor. Communism is the solution to the class struggle that Marx and Engels offer, by sharing that without class, no one would feel separate from another.
Another aspect of Marx’s theory of alienation is the alienation of the worker and his product. When the worker creates the product, the product generates wealth that is given to the bourgeois and not for the worker, and then the condition of the worker deteriorates. The worker is creating the thing that will eventually take control of him. This devalues the worker. Capitalism also takes away the value of one’s labor, “in bourgeois society, living labor is but a means to increase accumulated labour. In communist society, accumulated labour is but a means to widen, to enrich, to promote the existence of the labourer” (19). In a capitalist society, the things or objects that the worker creates are taken from him; their labour becomes a commodity. In a capitalist society, one’s labor goes into the pocket of another, while in a communist society everything one creates will equally benefit everyone, including oneself. Workers have no control over the product, or over what they are producing and the products workers create end up dominating the workers.The worker loses wealth, financially and emotionally. This is because the wealth is handed to those in power leaving the worker enslaved, degraded and impoverished. Marx and Engels believe that communism will bridge this divide. They write, “let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE” (33). The authors argue that the worker has been so devalued that he has nothing left to lose. This also refers to the proletariat’s oppression as they mention “their chains” (33). Under capitalism, work is controlled by employers and not by those actually doing the work. The worker lacks fulfillment. This is how the social aspects of alienation emerge. The worker’s labor becomes something that is used to generate money for survival instead of labor to exercise human creativity. The ability to be creative in one’s labor is denied to workers.
Workers become alienated from humanity when their only means of expression is their labor. One loses his sense of self when his day-to-day activities consist only of labor for someone other than himself. Marx and Engels argue that laborers are losing their humanity by becoming attached to their labor, “…the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him” (14). They argue that the worker is becoming such a part of their machines and labor that they do not have individuality. The potential for human creativity is lost. One becomes less human when their life revolves around labor benefiting another while getting little in return. This happens under capitalism. Human potential is non-existent in a non-expressive and capital producing environment. The worker cannot produce growth because he is doing the same thing day in and day out. Humans, as opposed to animals, have a consciousness and a will. This consciousness allows for free human activity. This free activity or will is a part of human nature. The alienated labor that capitalism creates takes away the product, thus taking away this aspect of human nature. Taking away this human advantage turns humans into animals.This creates a gap between the classes because the lower class has lost its humanity while the upper class maintains and feeds off the lower class’ struggle. A communist society would allow workers to be creative because the person that work is being created for is themselves allowing for error and experimentation.
Marx and Engels use alienation as one tool to show the problems with a capitalist system in The Communist Manifesto. Throughout the authors’ writing, it is shown that through a communist system alienation of peoples could be ended. Whether it is through one’s relationship to social class, one’s relationship to his or her production or one’s relationship to human nature it is seen through Marx and Engels’ writing that the capitalist system is a system that separates people rather than uniting them. Throughout The Communist Manifesto, it is seen that communism is the solution to this gap in society. Communism breaks down barriers created by social class, communism brings purpose to one’s labor and communism creates a relationship between human beings and human nature. Through Marx and Engels’ writing, it is seen that communism will bring value to the proletariat’s life and work.
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Alienation is a core aspect of Marxist thinking. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels argue in The Communist Manifesto that capitalism is the cause alienation. The theory is that the estrangement, […]