Marx’s theory of Alienation is surprisingly common when looking into our social structure in the U.S. Being a capitalist country, we developed a mode of production that deprives humans of being “human”. Workers are basically drones, gears in a grand industrial clock, where they are emotionless and have only one output which is labor. What is the point of constantly grinding out work, the same thing day in and day out, if you can’t enjoy life. It’s unfortunate that this net, that is alienation, has caught so many people and exploited them. However, as seen in history many times over, revolution seems to cure, even if only for a short time, the proletariat’s epidemic. I would assume that in order to achieve a “fresh start” that overcoming bureaucracy would be necessary and as time passes it seems more and more difficult. Alienation of the worker is spreading and it looks as if we are drifting further away from humanism.
Durkheim and Marx both held different opinions about Capitalism, specifically the modern division of labor. Marx was a conflict theorist and argued that the division of labor resulted in alienation, he mainly focused on the social inequalities between social groups. On the other hand, Durkheim claimed that the division of labor was not necessarily bad for the individual or society. Unlike Marx who claimed economic specialization produced alienation, Durkheim who was a functionalist, believed the division of labor was beneficial for society because it increases the worker’s skill and created a feeling of solidarity between people. He claimed the division of labor creates a certain balance and unites social systems, essentially making them more efficient. Although Marx and Durkheim were essentially basing their theories from the 19th century and the rise of industrialization, the division of labor theory can still be applied in today’s society.
Durkheim disagrees with Marx on alienation, he believes only in rare circumstances do people actually become aliented. In todays society someone who agrees with Durkheim would argue that the worker who works in retail is constantly interacting with other people, whether it is other workers or the customers. Although their task is to sell or restock, they understand that they are part of a bigger picture, they are helping economy, therefore the worker remains consious of their humanity. The worker sees they are part of a whole, as Durkheim says “he knows that his activity has a meaning.”
Based on the two arguments, I would agree with both. I believe workers do tend to get alienated from their work, for example my friends who work in retail always complain about how much they dislike their job. Similar to the workers becoming “the machine,” in todays society workers become “the dummies” in order to sell and make their wage or commission. Along the lines of Marx’s theory, employees work out of necessity, therefore they grow more and more resentful of their jobs. However I don’t believe alienation is the correct term, not every worker hates their job and my friends certainly do not feel isolated from their jobs. In other words I believe a better word for alienation is people feeling occasional discontent in their jobs. For example I am a waitress and bar tender, my hourly wage is very low because I get tips. There are days where I feel extremely discontent, days where it’s not busy, or days when customers are cheap; however, there are days where I have my regular customers or even new ones who always brighten up my day. Along the lines of Durkheim’s theory, I believe economic specialization is not necessarily bad, because I find that since I’ve been specializing in my job for so long, I am actually really good at it. But then again I am a bit biased, because I have great relationships with my boss and co-workers and actually enjoy my job.
Overall, I believe a combination of both theories is essentially the most accurate in today’s society. Although I just make drinks and serve them, I do not feel alienated from my job. Although my friends simply engage people to buy or work at the cash register, they do not necessarily feel alienated, especially in today’s society. However there are cases where people MUST work and do resent their jobs.
The fact that Americans believed that the wealth in America was closer to an idealistic distribution of wealth can be due to an education of false “freedom”. It is known that that theindustrial bourgeois in the industrial revolution surpassed other regimes of power, and with their surpassing they had a chance to use education for their benefits. They needed a way for the capitalistic machine to keep going and they knew that if they made education for the middle classa collective emphasis of false freedom and mobility, then the middle class could become somewhat blinded to any false value in terms of exchange value and unfortunate commodity. TheAmericans in both videos believed that wealth distribution in America was somewhat fair. The political sway of the industrial bourgeois today has allowed Government intervention, which is in close connection to education, to be of benefit for CEOs and investors. American has allowed this education of false freedom to be ingrained in the minds of Americans leading them to believe in the American dream. The wealth distribution was too said to have changed after some twenty to thirty years in the “Wealth Inequality in America” YouTube video because for some time the American people could have lived this dream. Since government intervention has recently been more lenient to the wants and definitions of exchange value of the one percent, the wealth distribution has seemingly changed overnight to something far from believed or idealistic, or even worse than some unequal African or Asian countries. There was a high lack of class consciousness probably fault to the American dream being opportune for so long in the past and the gilded survival of the middle class. This was expressed when those of the lower classes knew the right Wealth distraction in American and the wealthier Americans believed in the falsewealth distribution in America, in ” Land of the Free, Home of the poor.” The worst issues in terms of wealth distribution had not actualized because of such foolish thinking; hence class consciousness has not actualized. The seemingly well to do black women who went two towns away for food supply was thought of as unfit in the PBS special. The political sway of land of the free is far too ingrained in the head of the Americans; hence I was not surprised by their false thinking. Marx differed from Hegel in that is was material existence that allowed historical conscious change, yet when Americans are still living if whatever wealth is salvaged along with a false American dream, this type of conscious of class and poverty cannot be actualized. Unfortunately those who are hurt and are living in it such as the black women and the two low income workers can effectively be conscious in terms of wealth distribution. “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.” (From The German Ideology, Karl Marx and Friedrich Hegel) The Americans in these videos are only conscious products of their educational properties, and it is until they fall in the poorer pie slice of wealth distribution will they historically be conscious of their poorer existence. What did not surprise me but annoyed me was how Americans lost the critical thinking to rationalize their existence in terms of wealth distribution. Was it that collective and dominant teachings concerning “freedom” were all too brainwashing? The condition of alienation has not touched lucky Americans and those that are too ingrained with this “free” form of thinking, hence a woman in the PBS special said that she rather live in the most unequal pie chart, probably thinking that the chart expressed “free” trade. This free trade expresses some consciousness as if the Americans in these videos have some false sense of human consciousness, it could be unfortunate, but maybe as soon as they are treated like animals in the industrial expansion, maybe they will regain the real consciousness ofwhere they stand in terms of wealth. These Americans seem to be bombarded with too much “free” propaganda. The fact that so much are unemployed should by Marx’s words, prove that there will be some historical change coming soon, yet most rather believe in foolish dreams. With the power invested in the one percent, it is not too hard to use advertisements to appeal to the middle class, in a time when our economy is falling; you might see more advertisements expressing what money can do as if money has some magician powers to remove any feeling of unequal wealth distribution. It is unfortunate to think that government is redefining the definitionof what exchange value might be in our already failing economy. Maybe many Americans think that if certain commodities with “decent” values are still available, well maybe there is no unequal wealth distribution at all.
Karl Marx concept of alienation is introduced to us in the video as a concept of imprisonment. An individual could never fulfill true happiness at his workplace because of the conditions and limits on his/her freedom are imposed. His power to control his actions, destiny and ability to think are not controlled by himself, but rather by those he works for. Marx concludes that a person can only be his or her real self once they leave the work place.
As stated in the reading, the communist Manifesto, the people who control the means of production, the bourgeoisie, are the ones who are in control of the proletariats, the people who sell their labor to the market and just become a commodity. I think in a way it’s harsh to critique and categorize a person like Marx does in the communist manifesto, but its nothing less than the truth. Though many people have no other choice but to be chained to being a proletariat in society due to lack of resources and other unfortunate circumstances, Marx believes there is a way for someone who was once a proletariat to become a bourgeoisie. We all strive to become something meaningful in life and acquire as much wealth for our hard work, but with all this money we become greedy and along with the greed comes the problems.
An example of this may be seen in Drake’s song, “started from the bottom”.
“No new niggas, nigga we don’t feel that
F**** a fake friend, where your real friends at?
We don’t like to do too much explainin’
Story stayed the same, I never changed it
No new niggas, nigga we don’t feel that
F*** a fake friend, where you real friends at?
We don’t like to do too much explainin’
Story stayed the same through the money and the fame cause we…”
In this chorus we see how Drake expresses his feelings about making it to the top, but he feels like since he made it, everyone that doubted him suddenly wants to become a part of his life and his successes. Though he doesn’t intend to let them in, he feels alienated from everyone not knowing who is with him because they genuinely want to be and not because of his money and credentials. In the line “Story stayed the same through the money and the fame cause we…” I feel like the story of his progression as an artist and where he came from will never change even as his career continues.
In Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Karl Marx addresses how, upon the “realization of their objectification,” workers in a capitalist society present a loss of self and feel alienated/estranged from their labor; that is, after performing the same repetitive routine every day, they would soon begin to feel as if they are nothing more than cheap commodities who have practically structured their lives around their work. According to Marx, “the alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labor becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently, as something alien to him, and that it becomes a power of its own confronting him” (43). Workers on an assembly line, for instance, may have no prior knowledge of the particular product they are working on (i.e. an electronic knife that plays radio) and would confront it “as something alien” (43), but the product will soon take control/become a part of their lives as they are persistently ordered to manufacture/sell them to the demanding public with minimal breaks. This would cause the workers to feel that they are not engaging in an activity that expresses their capacity to shape their lives and their relationships with others but would instead feel that their roles are being reduced to that of a cog in a machine.
Once the labor product and the mundane process of this labor has turned into “an alien object exercising power over [the workers]” (45), Marx believes that there are two more aspects in hand that will make them feel completely alienated/separated from their line of work. Workers may begin to feel isolated towards each other as the prospect of estranged labor turns their “species being . . . into a being alien to him, into a means to his individual existence” (46); fellow coworkers who were once good friends may start to look upon one another as rival competitors to see who can get their line of work done more quickly and efficiently. The final aspect that Marx presents is that workers will feel completely isolated towards other people in “the estrangement of man from man,” which is “an immediate consequence of the fact that [they are] estranged from the product of [their] labor, [their] life-activity, [and their] species being” (46). For instance, fast food restaurant employees would feel estranged from their environment, customers, boss, and possibly their social life because they are mainly considered as “numbers” who aren’t actually acknowledged for their work and who seem to accept that they are “selling their souls” every day to work for minimum wage and not for the creative potential of labor itself. It could be said that Marx’s four aspects of alienation/estrangement in labor may have been some of the key factors that led to his 1848 publication of The Communist Manifesto, in which the proletariat is urged to rise up against the impending bourgeoisie.
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Tagged alienation, bourgeoisie, capitalism, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, estrangement, Karl marx, Labour economics, Marx, Marxism, Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, proletariat
As we’ve discussed in class, Google and other successful tech companies project an image as next generation workplaces that offer the promise of overcoming the alienation of labor. Andrew Norman Wilson, a conceptual artist who once worked for Google, has undertaken research into the transition from industrial to informational labor and what this means in terms of race and class. What he discovered inside Google was an intricate class system that separates workers into tiers with vastly different privileges. White badges are full-timers and green badges are interns. Google also employs thousands of contract workers, who wear red badges. Sequestered in a building separate from the main Google hive is another class of contract workers who are assigned yellow badges and do not enjoy the benefits granted to the white- and red-badged employees. Working for Google Book Search, these workers spend their days scanning books, page by page. Read more about Google’s Secret Class System here. Also check out: Art from Outside the Googleplex: An Interview with Andrew Norman Wilson. Wilson’s video, “Workers Leaving the Googleplex,” is below”
The part of Marx’s writing that really captured my attention was his discussion on alienation in the workplace. There are parts of what he says that I think holds true even today. However, I don’t agree with his theory entirely. Marx’s idea of alienation in the workplace is that labor is just a means to an end and nothing more than that. The labor an individual does is not at all beneficial to that person’s self development or self realization. Labor, Marx believes, serves no purpose other than survival. He explains how the individual puts so much into his work but gets very little in return and is considered insignificant; just a tiny part in such a large system. Marx is convinced that alienation is a contribution to the cause of the capitalism crisis. Though I would not phrase it in the dramatic way Marx does, I do agree that there are too many people who experience what Marx talks about; working solely to make ends meet with no other benefits. Those are the people who fear being fired because they know they can easily be replaced. They are aware that they aren’t valued for the person that they are but rather for the job they do, a job which someone else can easily take over in one second. Since their only purpose is to earn money, they don’t feel fulfillment or satisfaction at the end of the day because they are busy worrying about the next one. In contrast, I do think that there ARE so many people who, although their primary purpose for working is to support their family, do achieve a feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction everyday because they love what they do and know they can’t be replaced that easily. It would be a perfect world if everyone could work to do what they love and feel valued but poverty and other circumstances don’t always allow for that. It is interesting to think about the possibility that perhaps one day workers will be able to overcome alienation in the workplace.
And here’s a cartoon I found online that I thought was fitting for Marx’s theory of alienation in the workplace: