Why do people become alienated

Free University of Berlin

A contribution by Moritz and Alex. (changed on December 21, 2017)

Before Karl Marx published his main work “Das Kapital” in 1867, he dealt with far more philosophical and less economic topics. In 1844, at the age of 26, he wrote, among other things, the “Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts”, which were actually not intended for publication at all and were merely sketches in which Marx dealt with the worker and his alienation.

In the course of the text, Marx characterizes four forms of alienation from human beings, which we have already discussed and discussed at length in the seminar. The four forms of alienation are as follows:

The alienation

  1. of people from the product (people no longer have any relation to the product of their work)
  2. of people from the process of work (work no longer represents the satisfaction of a need, "forced labor")
  3. man from himself (derived from the first two points; man's alienation from his nature)
  4. of people from people (alienation, which in turn derives from the third level)

The image of man

What we could unfortunately focus less on in the seminar was the question of how Marx's concept of man is characterized.
Marx is of the opinion that man realizes himself in his work and the product he creates and is naturally productive. The decision to work is made consciously and of one's own free will. It is this free and self-determined goal and purpose of the activity to be carried out that distinguishes humans from animals. In capitalism, however, this human nature is lost, work is done only to satisfy needs outside of work. Instead of fulfilling and enriching work, there is “forced labor”. According to Marx, however, this capitalist way of thinking is fatal, since the (“generic”) nature of man is indivisible, i.e. man cannot work 14 hours a day 6 days a week, and at the same time be free on the seventh day of the week and, for example, be politically active. There is no clear separation between private and political life. Man is a social being, but realizes himself through his work. Thereby he becomes free; his species life is fulfilled.

What is also important and can easily be overlooked is that the non-worker, the capitalist, i.e. the factory owner, for example, also becomes alienated in capitalism. By handing over the work to the worker, there is also an alienation from oneself and the process of work. The capitalist, however, can live far better with this alienation, since his alienation results in wealth, rather than in bondage as with the worker. But he does not live in harmony with his human nature and is also alienated and accordingly not free.

Distancing yourself from the modern

With Constant and Rousseau, freedom was located in the relationship between the state and the individual. The liberal Constant sets limits to the sovereign - i.e. the state - and emphasizes the importance of personal freedom and civil rights, which, however, presuppose political freedom. With Marx it is no longer about this relationship, but about that between the two classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and about the consequences of this system in relation to nature and human freedom. Real human freedom is actually in the fulfillment of the above-mentioned species life. This fulfillment, however, makes the capitalist economic system impossible, which is based on private property and the accompanying civil rights defended by Constant. In this way of thinking, Marx differs drastically from the founders of modernity.

Marx sees the worker, at least in theory, as an enormously powerful subject who can free himself from the chains of capitalism through revolution. In this conclusion we can already read direct criticism of capitalism. Criticism that Karl Marx only expresses more clearly in his later works.

Further reading:

Barbara Zehnpfennig [Ed.] 2004: Economic-philosophical manuscripts / Karl Marx. 1st edition, Hamburg: Mine.

Michael Quante [Ed.] 2009: Karl Marx. Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts. Commentary by Michael Quante. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt a. M ..

Nikolai I. Lapin 1974: The young Marx. Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1974

Film review of “Der Junge Marx” at TitelThesenTempramente


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Author UlrikePosted on Categories DebateTags Constant, property, capitalism, criticism, Marx, Moderne, Rousseau