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Essay/Term paper: Revealing marx

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Political Science

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Revealing Marx

In Karl Marx's early writing on "estranged labour" there is a clear and
prevailing focus on the plight of the labourer. Marx's writing on estranged
labour is and attempt to draw a stark distinction between property owners and
workers. In the writing Marx argues that the worker becomes estranged from his
labour because he is not the recipient of the product he creates. As a result
labour is objectified, that is labour becomes the object of mans existence. As
labour is objectified man becomes disillusioned and enslaved. Marx argues that
man becomes to be viewed as a commodity worth only the labour he creates and man
is further reduced to a subsisting animal void of any capacity of freedom except
the will to labour. For Marx this all leads to the emergence of private property,
the enemy of the proletariat. In fact Marx's writing on estranged labour is a
repudiation of private property- a warning of how private property enslaves the
worker. This writing on estranged labour is an obvious point of basis for Marx's
Communist Manifesto.

The purpose of this paper is to view Marx's concept of alienation (estranged
labour) and how it limits freedom. For Marx man's freedom is relinquished or in
fact wrested from his true nature once he becomes a labourer. This process is
thoroughly explained throughout Estranged Labour. This study will reveal this
process and argue it's validity. Appendant to this study on alienation there
will be a micro-study which will attempt to ascertain Marx's view of freedom
(i.e. positive or negative). The study on alienation in conjunction with the
micro-study on Marx's view of freedom will help not only reveal why Marx feels
labour limits mans freedom, but it will also identify exactly what kind of
freedom is being limited. Estranged Labour

Karl Marx identifies estranged labour as labour alien to man. Marx explains the
condition of estranged labour as the result of man participating in an
institution alien to his nature. It is my interpretation that man is alienated
from his labour because he is not the reaper of what he sows. Because he is
never the recipient of his efforts the labourer lacks identity with what he
creates. For Marx then labour is "alien to the worker...[and]...does not belong
to his essential being." Marx identifies two explanations of why mans lack of
identity with labour leads him to be estranged from labour. (1) "[The labourer]
does not develop freely his physical and mental energy, but instead mortifies
his mind." In other words labour fails to nurture mans physical and mental
capacities and instead drains them. Because the worker is denied any nurturing
in his work no intimacy between the worker and his work develops. Lacking an
intimate relation with what he creates man is summarily estranged from his
labour. (2) Labour estranges man from himself. Marx argues that the labour the
worker produces does not belong to him, but to someone else. Given this
condition the labourer belongs to someone else and is therefore enslaved. As a
result of being enslaved the worker is reduced to a "subsisting animal", a
condition alien to him. As an end result man is estranged from himself and is
entirely mortified. Marx points to these to situations as the reason man is
essentially estranged from his labour. The incongruency between the world of
things the worker creates and the world the worker lives in is the estrangement.

Marx argues that the worker first realizes he is estranged from his labour when
it is apparent he cannot attain what he appropriates. As a result of this
realization the objectification of labour occurs. For the worker the labour
becomes an object, something shapeless and unidentifiable. Because labour is
objectified, the labourer begins to identify the product of labour as labour. In
other words all the worker can identify as a product of his labour, given the
condition of what he produces as a shapeless, unidentifiable object, is labour.
The worker is then left with only labour as the end product of his efforts. The
emerging condition is that he works to create more work. For Marx the monotonous
redundancy of this condition is highly detrimental because the worker loses
himself in his efforts. He argues that this situation is analogous to a man and
his religion. Marx writes, "The more man puts into God the less he retains in
himself....The worker puts his life into the object, but now his life no longer
belongs to him but to the object." The result of the worker belonging to the
object is that he is enslaved. The worker belongs to something else and his
actions are dictated by that thing. For Marx, labour turns man into a means.
Workers become nothing more than the capital necessary to produce a product.
Labour for Marx reduces man to a means of production. As a means of production
man is diminished to a subsisting enslaved creature void of his true nature. In
this condition he is reduced to the most detrimental state of man: one in which
he is estranged from himself. To help expand on this theme it is useful to look
at Marx's allegory of man's life-activity.

Life-activity and the Nature of Man Of the variety of reasons Marx argues man is
estranged from his labour, probably the most significant is his belief that
labour estranges man from himself. Marx argues that the labour the worker
produces does not belong to the worker so in essence the worker does not belong
to the worker. By virtue of this condition Marx argues the worker is enslaved.
Enslavement for Marx is a condition alien to man and he becomes estranged from
himself. For Marx, man estranged from himself is stripped of his very nature.
Not only because he is enslaved but because his life-activity has been displaced.
For Marx mans character is free, conscious activity, and mans pursuit of his
character is his life-activity. Mans life-activity is then the object of his
life. So by nature, mans own life is the object of his existence. This is mans
condition before labour. After labour mans life-activity, that is, his free
conscious, activity, or his very nature, is displaced. In a pre-labour condition
mans life was the object of his condition; in a labour condition man exists to
labour and his life-activity is reduced to a means of his existence so he can
labour. In effect labour necessitates itself in man by supplanting mans true
nature with an artificial one that re-prioritizes mans goals. Man's goal then is
not to pursue his life but to labour. He becomes linked to his labour and is
viewed in no other way. Man is reduced to chattel, a commodity, the private
property of another individual.

Conclusion For Marx labour limits the freedom of man. Labour becomes the object
of man's existence and he therefore becomes enslaved by it. In considering the
validity of Marx's argument I feel Marx is correct that man's freedom is limited
by the fact that he is a labourer. But in opposition to Marx I believe that
man's freedom is no more limited as a labourer than as a farmer. Agrarian worker
or labourer man's freedom is limited. Whether he is identified by the product he
creates in a factory or in a wheat field in either case he is tied to his work
and is not viewed beyond it. In either instance the product is objectified
because in either instance the worker works only to create more work. Just as
the labourer must continue to work without end to subsist, so must the agrarian
worker. The implication then is that alienation is not the culprit that limits
mans freedom, it is work itself. Do not mistake this as an advocation for
laziness. Instead consider the implications of not working. If one did not work
at all he or she would live a life of poverty and would be far less free than if
he did work. Working, either as a labourer or a farmer, offers greater financial
means and with greater financial means comes greater freedom. This point of the
argument stands up of course only if you believe money can by freedom. I argue
it can. Surely my freedom to buy something is limited if I do not have the
financial means. On the other hand if I have greater financial means I have more
freedom to buy things. So although labour limits freedom to the extent that the
worker becomes tied to his work, labour also offers a far greater freedom than
that of indigence. Labouring is no less acceptable than agrarian work because
the implications of partaking in either are uniform to both and alienation holds
no relevancy.

Appendage 1. Marx on Freedom Marx's view of freedom would seem a rather broad
topic, and I'm sure it is. For our purposes it is convenient to have just an
idea of what type of freedom Marx favors. For the sake of ease the scope of this
study will be limited to two (2) classifications of freedom: prescribed
(positive) freedom and negative liberties. Prescribed freedom would be guided
freedoms, or freedoms to do certain things. Negative liberties would be freedom
to do all but what is forbidden. In Marx's writing On The Jewish Question he
identifies (but does not necessarily advocates) liberty as "...the right to do
everything which does not harm others." In further argument Marx's states that
"liberty as a right of man is not founded upon the relationship between man and
man; but rather upon the separation of man from man." By this definition liberty
is negative liberty, and for Marx it is monistic and solitary. Marx then argues
that private property is the practical application of this negative liberty. He
states "...[private] property is...the right to enjoy ones fortune and dispose
of it as one will; without regard for other men and independently of society."
Private property for Marx is the mechanism by which man can be separate from
other men and pursue his (negative) liberty. Marx's writings on estranged labour
and in The Communist Manifesto are a clear repudiation of private property. What
can be deduced then is that Marx does not favor negative liberties. Negative
liberties require private property to exist and private property is for Marx the
enslaver of the proletariat.

Negative freedom eliminated from the discussion we are left with Positive or
prescribed freedoms. Positive freedom, as was identified above, is the freedom
to pursue specified options. That is, freedom to do certain things. Man is not
necessarily given a choice of what these options are, he is simply free to
pursue them whatever they may be. Posistive freedoms then are the freedoms Marx
likley wishes to uphold by denouncing estarnged labour.


1Marx, Karl, The Early Marx, (reserve packet)

2Marx, Karl and Engles, Freidrich, The Communist Manifesto, London, England,


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