ALIENATED (ESTRANGED) LABORKarl Marx
We have started out from the premises of politicaleconomy. We have accepted its language and its laws. We presupposed privateproperty; the separation of labor, capital, and land, and likewise of wages,profit, and capital; the division of labor; competition; the conceptionof exchange value, etc. From political economy itself, using its own words,we have shown that the worker sinks to the level of a commodity, and moreoverthe most wretched commodity of all; that the misery of the worker is ininverse proportion to the power and volume of his production; that thenecessary consequence of competition is the accumulation of capital ina few hands and hence the restoration of monopoly in a more terrible form;and that, finally, the distinction between capitalist and landlord, betweenagricultural worker and industrial worker, disappears and the whole ofsociety must split into the two classes of property owners and propertylessworkers.
Political economy proceeds from the fact of private property.It does not explain it. It grasps the material process of privateproperty, the process through which it actually passes, in general andabstract formulae which it then takes as laws. It does not Comprehendthese laws -- i.e., it does not show how they arise from the natureof private property. Political economy fails to explain the reason forthe division between labor and capital. For example, when it defines therelation of wages to profit, it takes the interests of the capitalistsas the basis of its analysis -- i.e., it assumes what it is supposedto explain. Similarly, competition is frequently brought into the argumentand explained in terms of external circumstances. Political economy teachesus nothing about the extent to which these external and apparently accidentalcircumstances are only the expression of a necessary development. We haveseen how exchange itself appears to political economy as an accidentalfact. The only wheels which political economy sets in motion are greed,and the war of the avaricious -- Competition.
Precisely because political economy fails to grasp the interconnectionswithin the movement, it was possible to oppose, for example, the doctrineof competition to the doctrine of monopoly, the doctrine of craft freedomto the doctrine of the guild, and the doctrine of the division of landedproperty to the doctrine of the great estate; for competition, craft freedom,and division of landed property were developed and conceived only as accidental,deliberate, violent consequences of monopoly, of the guilds, and of feudalproperty, and not as their necessary, inevitable, and natural consequences.
We now have to grasp the essential connection between privateproperty, greed, the separation of labor, capital and landed property,exchange and competition, value and the devaluation [Entwertung]of man, monopoly, and competition, etc. -- the connection between thisentire system of estrangement [Entfremdung] and the money system.
We must avoid repeating the mistake of the political economist,who bases his explanations on some imaginary primordial condition. Sucha primordial condition explains nothing. It simply pushes the questioninto the grey and nebulous distance. It assumes as facts and events whatit is supposed to deduce -- namely, the necessary relationships betweentwo things, between, for example, the division of labor and exchange. Similarly,theology explains the origin of evil by the fall of Man -- i.e.,it assumes as a fact in the form of history what it should explain.
We shall start out from a present-day economic fact.
The worker becomes poorer the more wealth he produces, the morehis production increases in power and extent. The worker becomes an evercheaper commodity the more commodities he produces. The devaluationof the human world grows in direct proportion to the increase in valueof the world of things. Labor not only produces commodities; it also producesitself and the workers as a commodity and it does so in the sameproportion in which it produces commodities in general.
This fact simply means that the object that labor produces, itproduct, stands opposed to it as something alien, as a power independentof the producer. The product of labor is labor embodied and made materialin an object, it is the objectification of labor. The realizationof labor is its objectification. In the sphere of political economy, thisrealization of labor appears as a loss of reality for the worker,objectification as loss of and bondage to the object, and appropriationas estrangement, as alienation [Entausserung].
So much does the realization of labor appear as loss of realitythat the worker loses his reality to the point of dying of starvation.So much does objectification appear as loss of the object that the workeris robbed of the objects he needs most not only for life but also for work.Work itself becomes an object which he can only obtain through an enormouseffort and with spasmodic interruptions. So much does the appropriationof the object appear as estrangement that the more objects the worker producesthe fewer can he possess and the more he falls under the domination ofhis product, of capital.
All these consequences are contained in this characteristic, thatthe workers is related to the product of labor as to an alien object.For it is clear that, according to this premise, the more the worker exertshimself in his work, the more powerful the alien, objective world becomeswhich he brings into being over against himself, the poorer he and hisinner world become, and the less they belong to him. It is the same inreligion. The more man puts into God, the less he retains within himself.The worker places his life in the object; but now it no longer belongsto him, but to the object. The greater his activity, therefore, the fewerobjects the worker possesses. What the product of his labor is, he is not.Therefore, the greater this product, the less is he himself. The externalization[Entausserung] of the worker in his product means not only that his laborbecomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outsidehim, independently of him and alien to him, and beings to confront himas an autonomous power; that the life which he has bestowed on the objectconfronts him as hostile and alien.
Let us not take a closer look at objectification, at the productionof the worker, and the estrangement, the loss of the objet, of his product,that this entails.
The workers can create nothing without nature, without the sensuousexternal world. It is the material in which his labor realizes itself,in which it is active and from which, and by means of which, it produces.
But just as nature provides labor with the means of life, in thesense of labor cannot live without objects on which to exercise itself,so also it provides the means of life in the narrower sense, namely themeans of physical subsistence of the worker.
The more the worker appropriates the external world, sensuousnature, through his labor, the more he deprives himself of the means oflife in two respects: firstly, the sensuous external world becomes lessand less an object belonging to his labor, a means of life of his labor;and, secondly, it becomes less and less a means of life in the immediatesense, a means for the physical subsistence of the worker.
In these two respects, then, the worker becomes a slave of hisobject; firstly, in that he receives an object of labor, i.e., hereceives work, and, secondly, in that he receives means of subsistence.Firstly, then, so that he can exists as a worker, and secondly as a physicalsubject. The culmination of this slavery is that it is only as a workerthat he can maintain himself as a physical subject and only as a physicalsubject that he is a worker.
(The estrangement of the worker in his object is expressed accordingto the laws of political economy in the following way:
the more the worker produces, the less he has to consume;
the more value he creates, the more worthless he becomes;
the more his product is shaped, the more misshapen the worker;
the more civilized his object, the more barbarous the worker;
the more powerful the work, the more powerless the worker;
the more intelligent the work, the duller the worker and the more he becomes a slave of nature.)
Political economy conceals the estrangement in the nature of labor by ignoringthe direct relationship between the worker (labor) and production. It istrue that labor produces marvels for the rich, but it produces privationfor the worker. It produces palaces, but hovels for the worker. It producesbeauty, but deformity for the worker. It replaces labor by machines, butit casts some of the workers back into barbarous forms of labor and turnsothers into machines. It produces intelligence, but it produces idiocyand cretinism for the worker.
The direct relationship of labor to its products is the relationshipof the worker to the objects of his production. The relationship of therich man to the objects of production and to production itself is onlya consequence of this first relationship, and confirms it. Later,we shall consider this second aspect. Therefore, when we ask what is theessential relationship of labor, we are asking about the relationship ofthe worker to production.
Up to now, we have considered the estrangement, the alienationof the worker, only from one aspect -- i.e., his relationship tothe products of his labor. But estrangement manifests itself not only inthe result, but also in the act of production, within the activity of productionitself. How could the product of the worker's activity confront him assomething alien if it were not for the fact that in the act of productionhe was estranging himself from himself? After all, the product is simplythe resume of the activity, of the production. So if the product of laboris alienation, production itself must be active alienation, the alienationof activity, the activity of alienation. The estrangement of the objectof labor merely summarizes the estrangement, the alienation in the activityof labor itself.
What constitutes the alienation of labor?
Firstly, the fact that labor is external to the worker -- i.e.,does not belong to his essential being; that he, therefore, does not confirmhimself in his work, but denies himself, feels miserable and not happy,does not develop free mental and physical energy, but mortifies his fleshand ruins his mind. Hence, the worker feels himself only when he is notworking; when he is working, he does not feel himself. He is at home whenhe 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 needsoutside itself. Its alien character is clearly demonstrated by the factthat as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, it is shunned likethe plague. External labor, labor in which man alienates himself, is alabor of self-sacrifice, of mortification. Finally, the external characterof labor for the worker is demonstrated by the fact that it belongs notto him but to another, and that in it he belongs not to himself but toanother. Just as in religion the spontaneous activity of the human imagination,the human brain, and the human heart, detaches itself from the individualand reappears as the alien activity of a god or of a devil, so the activityof the worker is not his own spontaneous activity. It belongs to another,it is a loss of his self.
The result is that man (the worker) feels that he is acting freelyonly in his animal functions -- eating, drinking, and procreating, or atmost in his dwelling and adornment -- while in his human functions, heis nothing more than animal.
It is true that eating, drinking, and procreating, etc., are alsogenuine human functions. However, when abstracted from other aspects ofhuman activity, and turned into final and exclusive ends, they are animal.
We have considered the act of estrangement of practical humanactivity, of labor, from two aspects: (1) the relationship of theworker to the product of labor as an alien object that has power over him.The relationship is, at the same time, the relationship to the sensuousexternal world, to natural objects, as an alien world confronting him,in hostile opposition. (2) The relationship of labor to the actof production within labor. This relationship is the relationship ofthe worker to his own activity as something which is alien and does notbelong to him, activity as passivity [Leiden], power as impotence, procreationas emasculation, the worker's own physical and mental energy, his personallife -- for what is life but activity? -- as an activity directed againsthimself, which is independent of him and does not belong to him. Self-estrangement,as compared with the estrangement of the object [Sache] mentioned above.
We now have to derive a third feature of estranged labor fromthe two we have already examined.
Man is a species-being, not only because he practically and theoreticallymakes the species -- both his own and those of other things -- his object,but also -- and this is simply another way of saying the same thing --because he looks upon himself as the present, living species, because helooks upon himself as a universal and therefore free being.
Species-life, both for man and for animals, consists physicallyin the fact that man, like animals, lives from inorganic nature; and becauseman is more universal than animals, so too is the area of inorganic naturefrom which he lives more universal. Just as plants, animals, stones, air,light, etc., theoretically form a part of human consciousness, partly asobjects of science and partly as objects of art -- his spiritual inorganicnature, his spiritual means of life, which he must first prepare beforehe can enjoy and digest them -- so, too, in practice they form a part ofhuman life and human activity. In a physical sense, man lives only fromthese natural products, whether in the form of nourishment, heating, clothing,shelter, etc. The universality of man manifests itself in practice in thatuniversality which makes the whole of nature his inorganic body, (1) asa direct means of life and (2) as the matter, the object, and the toolof his life activity. Nature is man's inorganic body -- that is to say,nature insofar as it is not the human body. Man lives from nature -- i.e.,nature is his body -- and he must maintain a continuing dialogue with itis he is not to die. To say that man's physical and mental life is linkedto nature simply means that nature is linked to itself, for man is a partof nature.
Estranged labor not only (1) estranges nature from man and (2)estranges man from himself, from his own function, from his vital activity;because of this, it also estranges man from his species. It turns his species-lifeinto a means for his individual life. Firstly, it estranges species-lifeand individual life, and, secondly, it turns the latter, in its abstractform, into the purpose of the former,also in its abstract and estrangedform.
For in the first place labor, life activity, productive life itself,appears to man only as a means for the satisfaction of a need, the needto preserve physical existence. But productive life is species-life. Itis life-producing life. The whole character of a species, its species-character,resides in the nature of its life activity, and free conscious activityconstitutes the species-character of man. Life appears only as a meansof life.
The animal is immediately one with its life activity. It is notdistinct from that activity; it is that activity. Man makes his life activityitself an object of his will and consciousness. He has conscious life activity.It is not a determination with which he directly merges. Conscious lifeactivity directly distinguishes man from animal life activity. Only becauseof that is he a species-being. Or, rather, he is a conscious being -- i.e.,his own life is an object for him, only because he is a species-being.Only because of that is his activity free activity. Estranged labor reversesthe relationship so that man, just because he is a conscious being, makeshis life activity, his being [Wesen], a mere means for his existence.
The practical creation of an objective world, the fashioningof inorganic nature, is proof that man is a conscious species-being --i.e., a being which treats the species as its own essential beingor itself as a species-being. It is true that animals also produce. Theybuild nests and dwelling, like the bee, the beaver, the ant, etc. But theyproduce only their own immediate needs or those of their young; they produceonly when immediate physical need compels them to do so, while man produceseven when he is free from physical need and truly produces only in freedomfrom such need; they produce only themselves, while man reproduces thewhole of nature; their products belong immediately to their physical bodies,while man freely confronts his own product. Animals produce only accordingto the standards and needs of the species to which they belong, while manis capable of producing according to the standards of every species andof applying to each object its inherent standard; hence, man also producesin accordance with the laws of beauty.
It is, therefore, in his fashioning of the objective that manreally proves himself to be a species-being. Such production is his activespecies-life. Through it, nature appears as his work and his reality.The object of labor is, therefore, the objectification of the species-lifeof man: for man produces himself not only intellectually, in his consciousness,but actively and actually, and he can therefore contemplate himself ina world he himself has created. In tearing away the object of his productionfrom man, estranged labor therefore tears away from him his species-life,his true species-objectivity, and transforms his advantage over animalsinto the disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him.
In the same way as estranged labor reduces spontaneous and freeactivity to a means, it makes man's species-life a means of his physicalexistence.
Consciousness, which man has from his species, is transformedthrough estrangement so that species-life becomes a means for him.
(3) Estranged labor, therefore, turns man's species-being-- both nature and his intellectual species-power -- into a being aliento him and a means of his individual existence. It estranges man from hisown body, from nature as it exists outside him, from his spiritual essence[Wesen], his human existence.
(4) An immediate consequence of man's estrangement fromthe product of his labor, his life activity, his species-being, is theestrangement of man from man. When man confront himself, he also confrontsother men. What is true of man's relationship to his labor, to the productof his labor, and to himself, is also true of his relationship to othermen, and to the labor and the object of the labor of other men.
In general, the proposition that man is estranged from his species-beingmeans that each man is estranged from the others and that all are estrangedfrom man's essence.
Man's estrangement, like all relationships of man to himself,is realized and expressed only in man's relationship to other men.
In the relationship of estranged labor, each man therefore regardsthe other in accordance with the standard and the situation in which heas a worker finds himself.
We started out from an economic fact, the estrangement of theworker and of his production. We gave this fact conceptual form: estranged,alienated labor. We have analyzed this concept, and in so doing merelyanalyzed an economic fact.
Let us now go on to see how the concept of estranged, alienatedlabor must express and present itself in reality.
If the product of labor is alien to me, and confronts me as analien power, to whom does it then belong?
To a being other than me.
Who is this being?
The gods? It is true that in early times most production -- e.g.,temple building, etc., in Egypt, India, and Mexico -- was in the serviceof the gods, just as the product belonged to the gods. But the gods alonewere never the masters of labor. The same is true of nature. And what aparadox it would be if the more man subjugates nature through his laborand the more divine miracles are made superfluous by the miracles of industry,the more he is forced to forgo the joy or production and the enjoymentof the product out of deference to these powers.
The alien being to whom labor and the product of labor belong,in whose service labor is performed, and for whose enjoyment the productof labor is created, can be none other than man himself.
If the product of labor does not belong to the worker, and ifit confronts him as an alien power, this is only possible because it belongsto a man other than the worker. If his activity is a torment for him, itmust provide pleasure and enjoyment for someone else. Not the gods, notnature, but only man himself can be this alien power over men.
Consider the above proposition that the relationship of man tohimself becomes objective and real for him only through his relationshipto other men. If, therefore, he regards the product of his labor, his objectifiedlabor, as an alien, hostile, and powerful object which is independent ofhim, then his relationship to that object is such that another man -- alien,hostile, powerful, and independent of him -- is its master. If he relatesto his own activity as unfree activity, then he relates to it as activityin the service, under the rule, coercion, and yoke of another man.
Every self-estrangement of man from himself and nature is manifestedin the relationship he sets up between other men and himself and nature.Thus, religious self-estrangement is necessarily manifested in the relationshipbetween layman and priest, or, since we are dealing here with the spiritualworld, between layman and mediator, etc. In the practical, real world,self-estrangement can manifest itself only in the practical, real relationshipto other men. The medium through which estrangement progresses is itselfa practical one. So through estranged labor man not only produces his relationshipto the object and to the act of production as to alien and hostile powers;he also produces the relationship in which other men stand to his productionand product, and the relationship in which he stands to these other men.Just as he creates his own production as a loss of reality, a punishment,and his own product as a loss, a product which does not belong to him,so he creates the domination of the non-producer over production and itsproduct. Just as he estranges from himself his own activity, so he confersupon the stranger and activity which does not belong to him. ...
WVC Philosophy HomePage |WVCHome Page
Questions or comments? firstname.lastname@example.org