Sometimes we feel like we don’t belong where we are. sometimes we feel like existence is elsewhere. We might think what’s wrong with us? Well, it’s not us who are the problem to feel so rather it’s the socio-economic system that we are in-“capitalism”. Capitalism separates an individual from all kinds of associated agencies where an individual loses control over his action and outcome thus can’t connect with the situation he is in and gradually feel like an alien(outsider) which Karl Marx calls alienation. Alienation has emerged from a lack of authority over the means of production and other activities one is involved in.

Generally speaking, alienation is a problematic separation between self and important others that properly belong together. This separation of individual from essential human essence might cause a state of helpless nothingness. Alienation may include four fundamental states in a human mind and those are, powerlessness, meaninglessness, isolation, and self-estrangement.

Marx explains his theory of alienation from a historical materialist approach. He argues though that before, work was physically more labor associating, people used to have authority over their work and working condition, thus they developed interest and skills accordingly. After the industrial revolution, people started working as machines having a seldom interest in what he is doing, might be under-skilled, or being pressurized. According to Marx capitalism creates two fundamental faults: oppression and alienation. These two concepts are quite correlated. Oppression is created from capitalism which is based on the notion of private property where the owner dominates the laborer in every possible way. In a capitalist mode of production, the bourgeoisie makes a profit from the surplus labor through oppressing and pushing the laborer to give the maximum labor. Going through this process, the laborer himself gets separated from his own labor and own production and enters the process of alienation.

Marx was widely inspired by the theory of alienation by G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) but while Hegel has seen this in an abstract form, Marx sees it in an absolute form. According to Marx alienation is not an internalized elemental phenomenon in an individual rather it’s an outcome of the made-up sociopolitical system. While explaining the phenomena he used terms like subject and object when with the subject he indicates the individual or the laborer and object is the produced or created thing. In a capitalist socioeconomic system of private property, the contradictory and antagonizing relationship between subject and object leads an individual to a loss of authority and agency over himself. It also causes separation between classes. Marx terms these situational separations between selves and classes as alienation.

Alienation might take place in four different approaches. first and fundamental, as already mentioned workers are alienated from their own labor. A person produces something but according to his owner’s choice even if it doesn’t engage the producer’s interest. When the product is produced the person doesn’t have any authority over his labor and creation. Second, the worker is alienated from his creation or product. That creation enters the market as a commodity and another one purchases the laborers’ labor along with the commodity. As a result, the worker hardly can involve any mental connection with his work as it finally doesn’t belong to him. Next comes the alienation from one worker to another. As profit comes from excessive labor power the workers are encouraged to work with heart and soul without wasting any of their precious moments so a created distance from one another is formed and finally, they are separated from their species-being. Capitalism injects a hegemonic concept that work is lord, work is everything, and if ones got to give himself a good and successful life he has to work forgetting every other thing. Capitalism makes work hard and miserable that person forgets himself, his choice falling in greed to the capitalist standard of successful being.

According to the general theory of society, in order to ensure a safe and secured living people bestow their individual ability, power, potentiality, and right to the sovereign might which could be the state or any religious institution. Getting separated from all the potential ability, a being set foot in the process of alienation and that is how absorbing all the individual ability, a sovereign entity empowers itself which is the base of ultimate governance of sociopolitical institutions. In Ludwig Feuerbach’s (1804-1872) philosophical critique of Christianity in the book Essence of Christianity, Feuerbach stated, Christianity consciously covert the reality that it was really human power relations which kept the social order going, rather than some higher spiritual reality. To submit all the ability and insecurity to god in order to reach salvation was a human construction. Thus alienation from the ‘truth’ of power was really maintained.

According to Marx, alienation is not the final human destination. Private property is the base of alienation and alienation is the main reason for the psychological crisis. To overcome this crisis denial and extermination of the whole concept of private property is the key. Not only the system of private property rather all the associated practices like social class, but narcissistic psychology also has to be exterminated. social ownership of the property instead of private ownership can be a key to eliminate this virus of alienation.

Author: Noushin Siddika Fariha. She is one of the content creators of Beyond Peace. You can reach her at [email protected]

Further Reading

Thompson, karl, 2017, “what is alienation”, Revisociology

Rashid, Harunur,2014, Marxist philosophy (মার্কসীয়দর্শন ), JatiyaSahityaProkash, elephant road, Dhaka