Marx’s essay, “Estranged Labour,” a chapter from Marx’s early work written in Paris and known as the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (and only published in the 1930s), is at core about how humans feel as they work within the capitalist system. In a nutshell, Marx claims that capitalism, through its construction and use of private property and the capitalist’s ownership of the means of production, alienates the real producers (i.e., the workers) not only from the very products they produce and the processes of production they work with, but also from themselves and each other.
What does it mean to feel alienated? To be alienated means to be separated from something. Marx uses this to describe how workers feel within the capitalist mode of production. He used the term to “denote the division and separation between the upper class (bourgeosie) and the lower class (proletariat). In recent years, the term has been used to suggest estrangement, powerlessness, and the depersonalization of the individual” within our contemporary society. So why does Marx claim we are alienated within the capitalist system? What is inherent to capitalism that alienates most of those who work within it? Trying to answer these two questions is the focus of this essay. Attempting to answer them also necessarily means we have to understand some of the key structures of the capitalist system, as well. Let’s start by looking briefly at the essay “Estranged Labour.”
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