Marxism and Alienation

Socialism 2017

August 15, 2017

For Marx, the root of alienation was our loss of control over our labor. We seem to stand helpless before the colossal achievements of our own labor—from skyscrapers to nuclear weapons. Alienation more generally describes a condition in which human beings are dominated by forces of their own creation, which confront them as alien powers. Under capitalism the products of human labor become not a means to enrich the producers, but a power that rules over and against them. The concept was first expressed by the young Marx in the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, and was later developed in his book Capital, where, in a chapter called “The Fetishism of Commodities,” he explains that in a commodity producing society, “the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labor is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labor.”

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