The theory proposes that the relationship between workers and their employers is based on a win lose structure where the laborer in all attempts to sustain themselves working for their bosses (capitalist) somewhat are always at a loss in the arrangement. On the other hand, the capitalists are always winning earning more from the labors of their workers while the labor struggles to make ends meet with the meager pay that the capitalists give them for labor and services rendered. In essence, the alienation theory revolves around the laborer explaining how the laborer becomes alienated from society in various ways based on the inequalities that follow as a result of the relations between them (laborers) and their employers (capitalists) in the capitalism system. Marx presents four forms of alienation that the laborer is most likely exposed to in a capitalistic market setting. These are as discussed as under;
Foremost, the estrangement of the worker from the product of his work; this estrangement has to do with the foundations of the capitalism framework. Whereas the capitalist owns the labor provided by the worker as well as the products of such labor, the worker on the other hand owns nothing of what he helps to produce for the capitalist. Further, the worker’s additional efforts in expanding his labor results in the growth of the wealth of the capitalist while his own wealth either diminishes or stays constant. For this reason, he becomes more and more estranged with the world that he has helped create. He is engaged in the production of wealth that he will never own. He becomes estranged due to the fact that everything he produces contributes to a world that is outside of him to which he does not belong and does not own a part of.
Secondly, estrangement from production; the worker in this regard does not in any way own the task that he does when at work. The only reason why he goes to work is so that he can have a means to survive. Hence the working activity does not spring spontaneously from within as a natural act of his own creation but rather it shows that he is somewhat enslaved to the job and has to do with what it dictates to meet his needs.
Thirdly, worker alienation from species-being or human identity, this refers to the worker’s not finding purpose in the essential source of identity and purpose in life. As human beings we are driven to work towards creation of things that amount to our core identity as human beings. The capitalism arrangement ensures that workers do not dream of a life beyond their work environment and the provisions that their jobs accrue to them. For this reason the worker is estranged from finding a higher purpose of them in this life other than working in their jobs and making ends meet. They hence remain stuck in luck of creativity making them ever more dependent on their jobs for survival.
Lastly, is the estrangement of man to man, where the worker is estranged from his employer simply due to the fact that the capitalist owns his means of survival and hence determines whether he gets a means to survive or not. The worker regards his boss or the capitalist as alien and hostile mainly because of the privatization of capital and production elements. The worker feels alienated from the capitalist based on the capitalist’s ways of enriching themselves at their (worker’s) expense without any moral conviction or guilt that they (capitalists) are exploiting the laborers for capital gains.
Both Marx and Mendel note that alienation in capitalism arises from social and economic conditions rather than unalterable human conditions. This argument is based on the premise that human beings become out of sync in the world that they live in as a result of alienation from the works that are deemed as a means of sustenance. This is not to mean that the worker cannot get themselves out of economic dependence on their jobs,rather it implies that the belief among workers that their jobs is their dole means of existence alienates them socially and economically. Therefore, it is a fact worth of note that the worker only becomes dependent on their job due to the fear that without it they will have no means to meet their needs, this fear develops within then gradually developing the alienation of the worker from the way they regard their own labor majorly as a means of transforming physical matter into objects of sustenance in their lives.
Basically, Marx’s ideas denote that the laborer is an individual who alienates himself from society and he is alienated from society based on the interpretations that he infers from the value that his work adds to his life. As a consequence, these interpretations are based on social economic conditions that define the relationship between the capitalist and the laborer in a capitalist economy.
Marx’s Alienation theory in Alienation of Students in the USA
Marx’s theory of alienation can be used to explain the current condition of the capitalist economy treatment of students by simply alienating them as such and not as future debtors or contributors to the economy as workers. Further, the theory can be used to explain the relationship surrounding the expansion of the population of the college students in line with the increasing levels of students’ debts. Similarly, it explains the rise of population of college students with regard to the increase in contingent work in the USA.
Foremost, contingent work is labor that is characteristic of temporal basis with no job security, it is also work that is done part time and as such it is as well paid on an hourly basis or on completion of the task. Hence, contingent work does not constitute salary nor fixed wages, neither does it offer employment on permanent basis. The theory of alienation on this premise explains that through alienation of the worker from the production process where the laborer does not own the process of production students are alienated as students and not as future workers contributing to the economy. Many college students are offered casual jobs especially during the holidays to attract them in making some cash to pay for their tuition and other educational needs. However, these casual jobs are actually contingent jobs where the former has some level of consistency while the latter gives no promise of sustainability. As a matter of fact, contingent jobs do not offer any form of future financial security.
Secondly, Marx in his theory presents an analogy where alienation of the worker stems from the production process. In the same line the student is estranged from the efforts he or she places in contingent work only to contribute to the sustenance of his/her own education. Worse the cost of higher education continues to rise in the USA which makes the student estranged by the capitalist system. In essence, the student becomes dependent on the contingent jobs to meet the requirements of his or her education. Students find themselves in financial debt in hopes of sustaining their education in college only to fall back into contingent labor as a means to pay off this debt. As more students’ access college education more of them generate debt that is as a result of a capitalist society offering them contingents rather than sustainable jobs thus alienating students as students.
Thirdly, Marx speaks of alienation based on estrangement of man by man basically where the worker feels alienated from his employer in terms of class differentiation as a result of the capitalist economy. In effect, the laborer see’s themselves as lesser to their bosses (capitalists) who own their means of survival (jobs) by enriching themselves with their efforts. This context on the American college goer is such that the capitalist society has estranged him or her to only serve in contingent jobs as they have not been offered a place in more formal employment. Students are therefore only given the option of working part time and paid on part time basis. Moreover, students are not treated as future workers since they are not given the opportunity to generate sustainable income as other workers in the capitalism system.
Lastly, Marx speaks of estrangement from humane identity, the worker finds himself excluded from identifying with aspects of humanity due to the mistreatment and unfairness that is eminent in the capitalist system. For this reason, the worker does not find purpose in his life rather than their job as a means to survive. The same scenario in the context of the American college student is such that the students constantly find themselves at pains to fit in the capitalist system where it is increasingly becoming paramount to have an education in order to get jobs in the capitalist system. This explains why more and more students continue to flock American universities in search of an education. As a result the student is alienated from the society as they are not deemed as fitting in the capitalist society without college education. They therefore strive to attain their degrees in order to fit in. Consequently, they sustain this need through debts which they strive to pay for with the limited opportunities offered to them in contingent labor.
In essence, the discussion finds that Marx’s alienation theory to a great extend can be used to explain the estrangement of American college going students as students rather than as future contributors to the American capitalist economy as laborers or debtors. This alienation is in the jobs that are offered to college going students and opportunities for wealth creation that are only available in contingent opportunities. Further, students find themselves alienated from the capitalist society by the pressures that capitalism places on higher education as a means to get jobs in future. As a result students are alienated as students since they cannot become part of the capitalist system (i.e. get decent jobs) without a college degree. Principally, the Marx’s theory of alienation is instrumental in explaining the alienation of the American college going student as discussed.
Graff, Holly. Marx's Theory of Alienation. 2014. Oakton. 24 3 2014. <http://www.oakton.edu/user/2/hgraff/Alienation%20summary.htm>.