PHIL 41150: Political Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Friday April 4, 2003

III. the worker is alienated from his "species being"

By "species being,"[1] Marx seems to mean man's existence as a human being, as a non-human animal, or the existence of man considered in the aspects in which it differs from the existence of other animals. Somehow, the worker becomes (or starts to feel) less human.

·         a unique character of human beings is that they are capable of working to produce things that aren't needed for survival -- birds produce nests, beavers produce dams, bees produce hives... but all those things are necessary for the survival of those species. Humans work to create things other than what's essential to survival (e.g. art, which is produced for the sake of beauty). " produces even when he is free from physical need and only truly produces in freedom therefrom." (EPM, Cahn p.836)

·         working for wages is work that's necessary for survival -- and so workers lose what's distinctively human about themselves and thus become alienated from themselves as human beings


IV. the worker is alienated from other human beings

Marx seems to take this to follow from the other three sorts of alienation -- he doesn't say much else about how this alienation occurs. Here's how Singer elaborates the point:


Love and trust are replaced by bargaining and exchange. Human beings cease to recognize in each other their common human nature; they see others as instruments for furthering their own egoistic interests. (Singer, Marx: A Very Short Introduction, p.36)


For these four reasons, Marx believes that economic life is the primary form of human alienation.



[3.4.] Against Private Property.


Marx's claims regarding (a) the importance of labor as a way to self-knowledge and (b) the alienation of man from his labor, work, "species being" and other humans, serve as a basis from which Marx criticizes private ownership of property:


"private property has its origins in alienated labor."


Private property is thus the product, the result, the necessary consequence, of alienated labor, of the external relation of the worker to nature and to himself.

                Private property thus results by analysis from the concept of alienated labor, or alienated man, of estranged labor, of estranged life, of estranged man. (EPM, Cahn p.837)


But eventually this relationship between private property and alienated labor becomes reciprocal -- they begin reinforcing each other:


...on the one hand it [private property] is the product of alienated labor, and ... on the other it is the means by which labor alienates itself, the realization of this alienation. (EPM, Cahn p.837)


My reading of this claim: The only property owned by the worker is something that he's paid for with his wages (which are meager to begin with) so he doesn't own anything that he's had a direct hand in shaping-- so he's alienated from everything he owns. But the need for further possessions generates the need for more wages, and thus more alienated labor.


This results in increasing greed: "Man becomes ever poorer as man, his need for money becomes ever greater if he wants to overpower hostile being." (EPM 147, not in Cahn)


The only wheels which political economy sets in motion are greed and the war amongst the greedy--competition. (EPM; Cahn p.832)


His strategy for curing alienation was radical: to eliminate labor within the capitalist system, the wage system, and private property -- i.e., to institute communism.



[4.] Communism.


The solution of the problem of alienation is, according to Marx, the elimination of private property, alienated labor and wages: i.e. the institution of communism. To see how this is supposed to come about, we need to look a bit more closely at the history of man's alienation.


[4.1.] History of the Class Struggle.


Marx's account of the history of man's alienation from his work and its product begins with this audacious claim:



The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

                Free man and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large or in the common ruin of the contending classes. (CM, Cahn p.848)


In earlier times, a given society consisted of a number of different classes; but in contemporary (i.e. 19th century European) society, the number of classes is being reduced to two: "…two great hostile camps, … two great classes directly facing each other: bourgeoisie and proletariat." (CM, Cahn p.849, emphases added)


bourgeoisie: capitalists (in the narrow sense-- those who own the means of production -- factories, coal mines and so forth), landowners, shopkeepers, pawnbrokers...


proletariat: wage laborers, who actually engage in the manual work needed for production.


This is a change from the times during which ownership and labor were frequently combined in a single individual (the blacksmith who owns his own shop, say). It's not that, before the industrial age, all labor was performed by owners (a blacksmith might have a few employees, servants, apprentices...); its that in the industrial age, there has been a "split" between individuals that own and individuals that labor.


That "split" results in a class struggle.

·         To increase profits, the owners pay the laborers as little as they can get away with, just enough for the laborers to survive and come back to work.

·         A condition that makes this possible is that there are more workers than jobs, and in effect the workers become a commodity to be purchased by owners at the lowest possible price.

·         Workers are thus dehumanized -- a worker is treated "only as a working animal--as a beast reduced to the strictest bodily needs." (EPM, not in Cahn)


[4.2.]  The Advent of Communism.


It's the proletariat that will serve as the material force to complete the progress of humanity and free it from the alienation that stems from economic life. They will do this by instituting communism, i.e., by eliminating:

·         private ownership of property

·         wages

·         strict division of labor

·         and (thus) alienated labor


The proletarians cannot become masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation, and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation. They have nothing of their own to secure and to fortify; their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property. (CM, Cahn p.854)


This will be accomplished by a "violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie" by the proletariat. (CM, Cahn p.854)


Thus does communism eliminate man's alienation.


Communism ... is the genuine resolution of the antagonism between man and nature and between man and man; it is the true resolution of the conflict between existence and essence, objectification and self-affirmation, freedom and necessity, individual and species. It is the riddle of history solved and knows itself as this solution. (EPM 89; not in Cahn; quoted in Singer, Marx, p.37)


And like Hegel, Marx held that history has a dialectical structure:

·         thesis: the stage of natural man-- nature "dominates" man, and nature hasn't yet become an object for man (no such thing as private property)

·         antithesis: ownership of private property is established; man is alienated from nature

·         synthesis: communism: a final state in which private property and alienation have both disappeared


Marx combined the concept of the dialectic, specifically the dialectical evolution of human society, that he inherited from Hegel, with materialism (which contradicts Hegel's own idealism, according to which reality is ultimately mental or spiritual, not physical; he inherits this from Feuerbach, doesn't argue for it) to get dialectical materialism (Marx never used this phrase; it comes from later commentators).


[1] Marx inherited this idea from another Left (Young) Hegelian named Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872), who in turn had inherited it from Hegel. In Hegel's view, all minds are aspects of a single universal mind; in Marx (by way of Feuerbach), this becomes the idea that all individual humans are capable of conceiving of themselves as belonging to the same species. (Peter Singer, Marx: A Very Short Introduction, p.35)

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