The idea of religious alienation and the associated notions of self alienation

The idea of religious alienation and the associated

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The idea of religious alienation, and the associated notions of self-alienation , and even alienation from species-essence (more on this later) were well-known in advanced Young Hegelian circles. However, through his reading of political economy Marx became convinced that the alienation also applied to labour. And, as we have seen, alienated labour is a primary cause of the misery on earth that leads us to create religion, so Marx believes. Marx s study of accounts and translations of the Scottish economist Adam Smith s The Wealth of Nations ( fi rst pub- lished 1776 ) led him to recognize several truths of political economy which highlight the plight of the worker under capitalism. I should emphasize that they are derived directly from Marx s understanding of Smith, even though Smith is early writings 29
often thought to have been one of the leading champions of capitalism. And so he was, in a way, yet we see that he also was not blind to its de fi ciencies. From Marx s jottings, we can draw out the following points that Marx claimed to have found in his reading of Smith: 1 . Under capitalism, the wages of the workers are literally minimal . This is a consequence of the fact that the capitalist is in by far the better bargaining position, and to avoid starving the worker must be prepared to accept the very low wage that will be on offer: a wage just suf fi cient to keep the worker and family alive. 2 . Work is punishing . For the same reason the worker must accept appalling conditions, leading to overwork and early death. 3 . Labour is degraded and one-sided . As the division of labour becomes more advanced, labour becomes more machine- like, and from a man [the worker] becomes an abstract activity and a stomach (Colletti 285 ). 4 . Labour has become a commodity . It is bought and sold on the market like any other commodity. 5 . The worker s life has become subject to alien forces . The demand on which the worker s life depends is founded on the desires of the wealthy and the capitalists. Marx s innovation was to combine Smith and Feuerbach to derive an account of alienated labour. That is, the plight of the worker under capitalism is an instance of the way in which a person s essence becomes detached from his or her existence; i.e. that workers live in a way that does not express early writings 30
their essence. Human beings are essentially productive crea- tures, but, Marx alleges, under capitalism they produce in an inhuman way. Now, to recall, the 1844 Manuscripts, in which this discussion occurs, is an unpublished fi rst draft, and so is bound to contain some unclarity and can be read in more than one way. But I shall follow what is now the standard interpretation in which, according to Marx, there are four chief forms of alienated labour. The fi rst aspect of alienated labour is alienation from the product. There is, initially, a very straightforward under- standing of this. The worker produces an object, yet has no say or control over the future use or possession of that object. In this sense, then, the worker, individually, is separ- ated from, or alienated from, that product. This observa-

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