In Karl Marx's Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, the philosopher denotes the main problems with private ownership, political economics and capitalist society. In short, those with property are the bourgeoisie, and those without property are the workers - the proletariat. “[Marx] believed that society is divided into those who own the means of producing wealth and those who do not, which gives rise to class conflict” (Hughes 10). Workers are frequently impoverished and alienated from their own world, most due to their inability to relate to the products that he creates. By making these products for other people, he is giving of himself to others without getting anything in return; he does not own any of the world that he gives his life to. Work is performed in order to survive, not to gain any personal fulfillment; the proletariat is at the mercy of the bourgeoisie in this way. This work also dehumanizes him and estranges him from his fellow human beings, as it is not done for him and to fulfill an essential sense of identity (Marx 652).
Marx often relates directly to Hegel, a philosopher who believes that alienation is part and parcel of the way our society works. Things like the role of church and state in our society are meant to make us feel at home in the world in which we live; through the essential nature of civil society, we are more self-conscious of our relationships to each other and to nature. However, Marx believes that these institutions are mishandled through the introduction of capitalism, as materialism takes us further away from nature and our own basic impulses (which make us human) (Marx 655). Alienation comes from these class divisions that are part and parcel of human society, according to Marx: “All history, he said, is composed of struggles between classes” (Hughes 11).
The solution that Marx proposes is Communism; capitalism creates a hierarchy of social classes, some receiving more privileges and advantages than the other, which is not the way a just society should be run. “Marx thought that if a revolutionary ideology emerged to mobilize the working class in pursuit of its class interest, the existing social order would be overturned and replaced by one that would pursue more humane goals” (Hughes 11). By eliminating private ownership as a pervasive system, Marx seeks to eliminate this alienation between human beings by allowing labor to happen for its own sake, and for the fulfillment of all regardless of class stature. Self-denial is no longer necessary, and human relationships become far less antagonistic. By redirecting the labor of man away from these notions of private ownership, man works toward a collective goal that all shares equally; this goal is thought to return man to its natural, sensuous state.
Marx's philosophies are endlessly admirable; the central tenet of Communism, that of eliminating alienation and redirecting labor to a more productive and fulfilling state for all men, is something that resonates deeply with those who have been disenfranchised from the fruits of their labor. The system of private ownership is justifiably critiqued, and Marx's thoughts on materialism are appropriate in their stance on alienation. The overall goal of Marx seems to be to create a happy society - not by 'stealing from the rich' or not giving them their fair due, but by allowing all citizens to work towards communal goals and become more closely connected. Furthermore, it does not encourage sloth or laziness, as labor is thought to be central to human existence, and subsequently one of the most important things men can do. The point for Marx, it seems, is to concentrate those efforts more effectively and in a more fulfilling way. In this way, Marx provides a very cathartic and idealized philosophy that, if it were to be successful, would create a net positive outcome for a society.
In terms of division of labor, in which individuals are expected to take on different, segmented tasks to create collective materials and products more quickly, Marx argues that this division creates unique inequalities that cheapen and lessen the overall product. In essence, increasing specialization makes workers have worse skills in other areas apart from their specialization. To that point, it leads to alienation - the one skill in which they are experienced and trained becomes boring and monotonous to them, and as a result, poorer quality of their work results. Marx, however, argues that the division of labor can become a necessary evil; it is sometimes the only way in which efficient production can be accomplished on a national level.
The alternative to this unequal division of labor is the shifting from social division to technical/economic divisions. The goal is to restrict all division of labor to those that are strictly necessary on a technical level; he only wishes to override all divisions that are socially caused, as those create unequal power relationships that can (and should) be avoided. The real movement, that he believes communism to be, is one that is completely equitable in terms of human experience, relationship and labor - people are always working in fulfilling fields that contribute to the greatest surplus value. One can become an expert in whatever field they want, with general production regulated by society and permitting of men to achieve excellence in a variety of fields. Marx, however, argues that the division of labor can become a necessary evil; it . It is expected or hoped that there is the desire for at least one person to devote themselves to all needed jobs, no matter how undesirable; on the other hand, people should not be expected to do undesirable jobs for very long if they need doing.
Applying these concepts to our personal lives, it is easy to detect a sense of alienation. For example, I was once given the chance to visit an uncle of mine, who actually lives and works on a farm. When I went down to visit him and saw a farm for the first time, seeing how he worked, it reminded me that I have a very loose relationship with the food I consume. Instead of farming it and cultivating it myself, I purchase it from a store or restaurant; this made me feel a bit alienated from the way our society works, as I have very little direct involvement in the way my food is cultivated and provided to me. At the same time, I felt a distinct sense of class alienation from him, as my work is decidedly more bourgeois than his; our social circles and work responsibilities are decidedly different, so it was hard to relate to each other on very fundamental levels. This is but one way I have felt this sense of alienation from other classes and social groups in modern life.
Hughes, Michael. Sociology: The Core (11th ed.). Humanities & Social Services, 2013. Print.
Marx, Karl. “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.” The Norton Anthology of Theory
and Criticism 2nd Ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: WW Norton, 2010. Print.