Alienation and its Types

You might find yourself feeling alienated at times, and wondering if it's just in your head. The answer, according to Karl Marx, might be no - there are four different types of alienation. In this article, we take a closer look at the theory proposed by Marx on the four forms of impacts that can lead to alienation, and what they might mean for you personally.

Many people are familiar with the work of Karl Marx, but fewer are aware of his theories on alienation. In a nutshell, alienation (German: Entfremdung) is the process by which workers are disconnected from the very aspects of human nature (Gattungswesen, 'species-essence').

Marx defines "work" as the "extension of being" and the essence of being; that is, species-essence.

What one does defines them! A worker cherishes when his art is appreciated and feels valued when his labour is valued and his product demanded. The work connects the worker to the peers and society at large and finds fulfilment in such contribution. A free worker gets to decide the schedule and make all the decisions. On the contrary, capitalism enslaves a worker on various levels as exposed by the theory of alienation. 

Karl Marx wrote extensively about the phenomenon of social alienation. He believed that alienation was a direct result of capitalism and the class struggle. Alienation is the process by which people are isolated from the things that are important to them.

Here is an example!
Imagine you are a baker and you make beautiful cakes. All the people in the town respect you and your products are demanded; you decide your own schedule and keep all the profit margin to yourself; suppose you charge Rs.1000 for one cake. Imagine now a capitalist sets up a big business, with a brand tag and everyone begins to go there. You eventually are left with no choice but to find a job there. You get a job there and as "division of labour" suggests, you are dictated by the capitalist to do the packing, the greater share of the profit goes to the capitalist while you as a worker now get only Rs. 200 by spending the same energy. You no longer own the cake you produce, you don't even produce it entirely since you are stuck with singular robotic and repetitive tasks, you no more see yourself in the product, that is, your work doesn't get you respect and therefore isn't fulfilling anymore. You are alienated. 

1. Alienation of the worker from their product

Under private property, all the decisions are dictated, by the board of directors and capitalists, about the design and development of production and the worker is left with no control over what is to be produced or the specifications of his/her product. This replacement of power from worker to capitalist alienates the worker from his/her product which he/she produces but does not own.

2. Alienation of the worker from the act of production

The skilled labour makes work repetitive and mechanical. A worker is coerced into repetitively performing a singular task, such as packing products in the box or putting the lids on bottles. Since the worker is distanced from the whole act of production this alienation makes him/her feel worthless because work becomes only a means for survival instead of fulfilment. 

3. Alienation of the worker from their species-essence

An individual's "Gattungswesen" or species-essence is made up of all of their natural potentials. A person who is compelled to sell their labour as a market commodity under a capitalist mode of production forfeits their individuality and the chance to grow as a person.

4. Alienation of the worker from other workers

The so-called labour market, in which workers compete with one another, is created when labour is reduced to a mere market commodity. Instead of being viewed as a positive socio-economic activity marked by group effort, labour is traded on a competitive labour market. Such fight-for-life, work for capitalist-or-die social Darwinistic competition under capitalism alienates workers from peers.



The alienation arises when people are not able to express their true selves at work. They may be forced to do repetitive, boring work that stifles their creativity and individuality. As a result, they may feel alienated from their work and themselves.

Marx's theory of alienation is a complex and multi-layered one. In this article, we have only scratched the surface in terms of understanding what Marx meant by alienation and how it manifests itself in our lives. If you are interested in exploring this topic further, we recommend reading some of Marx's work or checking out other resources that discuss his ideas.

What does this mean for us today? Well, many of us are working longer hours for less pay, and we're increasingly precariously employed. We're working harder and harder, but we're not getting ahead. This is because our work is not fulfilling, it's not creative, and it doesn't give us a sense of control over our lives. We're just cogs in the machine, and our labour is being exploited to make profits for those at the top through the extraction of surplus value from our labour value.




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