The concept of alienation plays a significant role in Marx's early political writing, especially in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1848, but it is rarely mentioned in his later works. This implies that while Marx found alienation useful in investigating certain basic aspects of the development of capitalist society, it is less useful in putting forward the predictions of the collapse of capitalism. The aim of this essay is to explain alienation, and show how it fits into the pattern of Marx's thought. It will be concluded that alienation is a useful tool in explaining the affect of capitalism on human existence. In Marx's thought, however, the usefulness of alienation it is limited to explanation. It does not help in either predicting the downfall of capitalism, or the creation of communism.
Marx takes his idea of alienation from Feuerbach, who shows the alienation of man from God. Briefly, Feuerbach's argument is that God is created by man as the 'projection of man's species-essence, the totality of his powers and attributes raised to the level of infinity' (1). Religion alienates man by reversing the relationship between the subject and predicate - the Deity is supreme over man, even though it is created by man. Leszek Kolakowski suggests that the clearest material example of religious alienation is blood sacrifice. In general, therefore, alienation of man is the process that separates man from part of himself. In Feuerbach, the separation is between man and the god created in man's image. In Marx, as shall be seen, alienation is the separation between man and his life-activity, his product, society and the species. Each of these four relations can be seen as one aspect of man being separated from himself.
A man's life-activity is his work. In a capitalist society, the worker is alienated from his labour - 'he plays no part in deciding what to do or how to do it' (2). The division of labour ensures that each worker only does one job, and the labour market decides which job any particular worker will do. During labour, the worker uses capital not under his own control. The capital available determines the nature of the work. On top of all this, the worker has no choice but to work, as wages are needed to provide the worker's means to life. Work is seen to be 'not voluntary, but forced' (3). This shows that in a capitalist society, the worker is separated from the decisions of whether or not to work, what the work will be, and what form the work will take. This alienation of labour is the separation of man from his life-activity.
Not only is the worker alienated from his labour, but he is also separated from the result of his labour - the product. This is the most obvious manifestation of the alienation of the worker; he has no power over what he produces. The wage contract ensures that the products of labour are surrendered to the capitalist, who then sells them on the market, and pays the worker a wage. Marx...