THE WORLD SINCE 1492
Karl Marx on Alienation
From Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848):
"Owing to the extensive use of machinery and to division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and consequently all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him. Hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for his maintenance, and for the propagation of his race. But the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labour, is equal to its cost of production. In proportion, therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases."1
From Grundrisse (1857-1858):
"...it is the machine which possesses skill and strength in place of the worker, is itself the virtuoso, with a soul of its own in the mechanical laws acting through it; and it consumes coal, oil etc.,...just as a worker consumes food, to keep up its perpetual motion. The worker's activity, reduced to a mere abstraction of activity, is determined and regulated on all sides by the movement of the machinery, and not the opposite. The science which compels the inanimate limbs of the machinery, by their construction, to act purposefully, as an automaton, does not exist in the worker's consciousness, but rather acts upon him through the machine as an alien power, as the power of the machine itself."2
"The Times of November 1857 contains an utterly delightful cry of outrage on the part of a West-Indian plantation owner. This advocate analyses with great moral indignation--as a plea for the re-introduction of Negro slavery--how the Quashees (the free blacks of Jamaica) content themselves with producing only what is strictly necessary for their own consumption, and, alongside this "use value", regard loafing (indulgence and idleness) as the real luxury good; how they do not care a damn for the sugar and the fixed capital invested in the plantations, but rather observe the planters' impending bankruptcy with an ironic grin of malicious pleasure... They have ceased to be slaves, but not in order to become wage labourers, but, instead, self-sustaining peasants working for their own consumption. As far as they are concerned, capital does not exist as capital, because autonomous wealth as such can exist only either on the basis of direct forced labour, slavery, or indirect force labour, wage labour."3
From "Wage Labour and Capital" (1847):
"...as the division of labour increases, labour is simplified. The special skill of the worker becomes worthless. He becomes transformed into a simple, monotonous productive force that does not have to use intense bodily or intellectual faculties. His labour becomes a labour that anyone can perform. Hence, competitors crowd upon him on all sides, and besides we remind the reader that the more simple and easily learned the labour is, the lower the cost of production needed to master it, the lower do wages sink, for, like the price of every other commodity, they are determined by the cost of production.
Therefore, as labour becomes more unsatisfying, more repulsive, competition increases and wages decrease. The worker tries to keep up the amount of his wages by working more, whether my working longer hours or by producing more in one hour...the more he works the less wages he receives..."4
"Labour power is...a commodity which its possessor, the wage-worker, sells to capital. Why does he sell it? In order to live...the worker, who for twelve hours weaves, spins, drills, turns, builds, shovels, breaks stones, carries loads, etc.--does he consider this twelve hoursí weaving, spinning, drilling, turning, building, shovelling, stone breaking as a manifestation of his life? On the contrary, life begins for him where this activity ceases, at table, in the public house, in bed. The twelve hoursí labour...has no meaning for him...but as earnings, which bring him to the table, to the public house, into bed....Labour was not always wage labour, that is, free labour. The slave did not sell his labour power to the slave owner, any more than the ox sells its services to the peasant. The slave, together with his labour power, is sold once and for all to his owner. He is a commodity which can pass from the hand of one owner to that of another. He is himself a commodity, but the labour power is not his commodity. The serf sells only a part of his labour power. He does not receive a wage from the owner of the land; rather the owner of the land receives a tribute from him.
The serf belongs to the land and turns over to the owner of the land the fruits thereof. The free labourer, on the other hand, sells himself and, indeed, sells himself piecemeal. He sells at auction eight, ten, twelve, fifteen hours of his life, day after day, to the highest bidder..."5
From Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844):
"The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more commodities he creates...Labour produces not only commodities; it produces itself and the worker as a commodity--and does so in the proportion in which it produces commodities generally.
This fact expresses merely that the object which labour produces--labour's product--confronts it as something alien, as a power independent of the producer. The product of labour is labour which has been congealed in an object, which has become material: it is the objectification of labour...this realization of labour appears as a loss of reality for the workers; objectification as loss of the object and object-bondage; appropriation as estrangement, as alienation.
So much does labour's realization appear as loss of reality that the worker loses reality to the point of starving to death. So much does objectification appear as loss of the object that the worker is robbed of the objects most necessary not only for his life but for his work."6
1Robert C. Tucker, ed., The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed., (New York: Norton, 1978), 479.