Karl Marxs Estranged Labor Essay

This essay has a total of 1731 words and 7 pages.

Karl Marxs Estranged Labor

Karl Marx's Estranged Labor


In Karl Marx's early writing on "estranged labor" there is a clear and
prevailing focus on the plight of the laborer. Marx's writing on estranged labor
is an attempt to draw a stark distinction between property owners and workers.
In the writing Marx argues that the worker becomes estranged from his labor
because he is not the recipient of the product he creates. As a result labor is
objectified, that is labor becomes the object of mans existence. As labor is
objectified man becomes disillusioned and enslaved. Marx argues that man becomes
to be viewed as a commodity worth only the labor he creates and man is further
reduced to a subsisting animal void of any capacity of freedom except the will
to labor. For Marx this all leads to the emergence of private property, the
enemy of the proletariat. In fact Marx's writing on estranged labor is a
repudiation of private property- a warning of how private property enslaves the
worker. This writing on estranged labor 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 labor) and how it limits freedom. For Marx man's freedom is
relinquished or in fact wrested from his true nature once he becomes a laborer.
This process is thoroughly explained throughout Estranged Labor. 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 labor limits mans freedom, but it will also identify
exactly what kind of freedom is being limited.
Karl Marx identifies estranged labor as labor alien to man. Marx
explains the condition of estranged labor as the result of man participating in
an institution alien to his nature. It is my interpretation that man is
alienated from his labor because he is not the reaper of what he sows. Because
he is never the recipient of his efforts the laborer lacks identity with what he
creates. For Marx then labor is "alien to the worker...[and]...does not belong
to his essential being." Marx identifies two explanations of why mans lack of
identity with labor leads him to be estranged from labor. (1) "[The laborer]
does not develop freely his physical and mental energy, but instead mortifies
his mind." In other words labor 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 labor.
(2) Labor estranges man from himself. Marx argues that the labor the worker
produces does not belong to him, but to someone else. Given this condition the
laborer 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 labor. 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
labor when it is apparent he cannot attain what he appropriates. As a result of
this realization the objectification of labor occurs. For the worker the labor
becomes an object, something shapeless and unidentifiable. Because labor is
objectified, the laborer begins to identify the product of labor as labor. In
other words all the worker can identify as a product of his labor, given the
condition of what he produces as a shapeless, unidentifiable object, is labor.
The worker is then left with only labor 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, labor turns man into a means.
Workers become nothing more than the capital necessary to produce a product.
Continues for 4 more pages >>