Sociology 250


September 27, 2002


Selected quotes on alienation from Marx

1.  Just as in religion the spontaneous activity of the human imagination, of the human brain and the human hear, operates independently of the individual–that is, operates on him as an alien, divine or diabolical activity—so is the worker's activity not his spontaneous activity.  It belongs to another; it is the loss of his self.  (p. 111).

2.  The worker sinks to the level of a commodity and becomes indeed the most wretched of commodities; that the wretchedness of the worker is in inverse proportion to the power and magnitude of his production; that the necessary result of competition is the accumulation of capital in a few hands, and thus the restoration of monopoly in a more terrible form ...  (p. 106)

3.  We shall begin from a contemporary economic fact.  The worker becomes poorer the more wealth he produces and the more his production increases in power and extent.  The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more goods he creates. The devaluation of the human world increases in direct relation to the increase in value of the world of things.  Labour does not only create goods; it also produces itself and the worker as a commodity, and indeed in the same proportion as it produces goods. (Manuscripts, p. 13)

4.  This fact simply implies that the object produced by labour, its product, now stands opposed to it as an alien being, as a power independent of the producer.  The product of labour is labour which has been embodied in an object and turned into a physical thing; this product is an objectification of labour.  ...  So much does the performance of work appear as devaluation that the worker is devalued to the point of starvation.  So much does objectification appear as loss of the object that the worker is deprived of the most essential things not only of life but also of work.  Labour itself becomes an object which he can acquire only with the greatest effort and with unpredictable interruptions.  ... the more objects the worker produces the fewer he can possess and the more he falls under the domination of his product, of capital.  (Manuscripts, p. 13)

5.  All these consequences follow from the fact that the worker is related to the product of his labour as to an alien object.  For it is clear on this presupposition that the more the worker expends himself in work the more powerful becomes the world of objects which he creates in face of himself, the poorer he becomes in his inner life, and the less he belongs to himself.  ...  The worker puts his life into the object, and his life then belongs no longer to himself but to the object.  The greater his activity, therefore, the less he possesses.  What is embodied in the product of his labour is no longer his own. The greater this product is, therefore, the more he is diminished.  The alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labour becomes an object, assumes an external existence, but that it exists independently, outside himself, and alien to him, and that it stands opposed to him as an autonomous power.  The life which he has given to the object sets itself against him as an alien and hostile force. (Manuscripts, pp. 13-14)

6.   [H]e does not fulfil himself in his work but denies himself, has a feeling of misery rather than well-being, does not develop freely his mental and physical energies but is physically exhausted and mentally debased.  The worker, therefore, feels himself at home only during his leisure time, whereas at work he feels homeless.  His work is not voluntary but imposed, forced labour.  It is not the satisfaction of a need, but only a means for satisfying other needs.  (Manuscripts, p. 15)

7.   Since alienated labour: (1) alienates nature from man; and (2) alienates man from himself, from his own active function, his life activity; so it alienates him from the species. ...  For labour, life activity, productive life, now appear to man only as means for the satisfaction of a need, the need to maintain physical existence.  ...  In the type of life activity resides the whole character of a species, its species-character; and free, conscious activity is the species-character of human beings.  ...  Conscious life activity distinguishes man from the life activity of animals.  (Manuscripts, p. 16)

8.  A direct consequence of the alienation of man from the product of his labour, from his life activity and from his species-life, is that man is alienated from other men. ... man is alienated from his species-life means that each man is alienated from others, and that each of the others is likewise alienated from human life.  (Manuscripts, p. 17)

9.  Political economy starts with the fact of private property; it does not explain it to us.  (p. 106).

10.  Now, therefore, we have to grasp the intrinsic connection between private property, greed, and the separation of labour, capital and landed property; between exchange and competition, value and the devaluation of men, monopoly and competition, etc. – the connection between this whole estrangement and the money system. (p. 107)

11.  It is true that labour produces for the rich wonderful things – but for the worker it produces privation.  It produces palaces – but for the worker, hovels.  It produces beauty -- but for the worker, deformity. It replaces labour by machines, but it throws one section of the workers back to a barbarous type of labour, and it turns the other workers into machines.  It produces intelligence – but for the worker, stupidity, cretinism.  (p. 110).

12.  Wages are a direct consequence of estranged labour, and estranged labour is the direct cause of private property.  The downfall of one must involve the downfall of the other.    (2) From the relationship of estranged labour to private property it follows further that the emancipation of society from private property, etc., from servitude, is expressed in the political form of the emancipation of the workers; not that their emancipation alone is at stake, but because the emancipation of the workers contains universal human emancipation – and it contains this, because the whole of human servitude is involved in the relation of the worker to production, and every relation of servitude is but a modification and consequences of this relation.  (p. 118).

13.  Communism as the positive transcendence of private property as human self-estrangement, and therefore as the real appropriation of the human essence by and for man; communism therefore as the complete return of man to himself as a social (i.e., human) being – a return become conscious, and accomplished within the entire wealth of previous development.   This communism, as fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man – the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species.  Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution. (p. 135)



Manuscripts refers to Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, reprinted in A. Giddens and D. Held, Classes, Power, and Conflict: Classical and Contemporary Debates, pp. 12-19.  (Note: I changed the translation of the word 'vitiate' to 'devalue' in 2).

Other references are from Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, New York, International Publishers, 1964.  HX39.5 A224 1964


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