This essay will consist of a close reading of a passage from Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, published in 1927 after his death. They were, however not translated into English until 1959 and have consequently been the cause of a reinterpretation of Marxian philosophy. The passage I will discuss is from the section entitled ‘Estranged Labour’ from the manuscripts. The passage begins “What constitutes the alienation of labour” and ends “he looks upon himself as a universal and therefore free being.”
The period in which Marx wrote the majority of his works was shortly after the Industrial Revolution, therefore, his writing is reflective of this. Means of production had evolved dramatically and new and improved machinery meant that manufacturing commodities was easier, drastically lessening the roles of human workers. Marx posited that labour was essential to the human condition, it is by shaping the world through work that we as human beings, realise ourselves in the world. Marx rejected the Hegelian notion of self-consciousness, that self-consciousness is and always has been omnipresent. Instead, Marx sugges...
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...es it for the benefit of his employers and it is they who profit from it. This means that the object he has produced has become an “alien object” to him, it no longer belongs to him, but to his employers.
Accordingly, the worker becomes himself a commodity, who is bought and sold on the market in a similar way. The effort needed to produce a commodity, in the capitalist system, becomes a commodity in and of itself. His wages are a result of what the market deems applicable, the division of labour has devalued his work. Consequently, as Marx affirms, the worker feels “at home [only] when he is not working.” It is only when he is performing the basic human functions of “eating, drinking and procreating” that he is acting of his own free will. This dehumanises the worker, as while these actions are crucial to human life they are what Marx calls, “animal functions.”
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