Karl Marx was a German philosopher, economist and political thinker, usually portrayed as the father of 20th century Communism. After a brief carrier as a teacher and journalist, Marx spent the rest of his life as an active revolutionary and writer, living mainly in London and supported mainly by his friend and life-long collaborator Friedrich Engels. From Marx’s perspective, human beings distinguished themselves from other animals based on their consciousness, autonomy, and ability to be productive members of a society, which give them a sense of purpose in life. Broadly, this is what Marx referred to as human nature, which he characterized as the essence of a person, or one’s ability to control their own destiny to a certain extent.
One of the most original contributions of the Marx is his Theory of Alienation. This is contained in his early work Economic and Political Manuscripts, which were written in 1843 but were discovered nearly fifty years after his death. These Manuscripts shows that ‘early Marx’, was mainly interested in the problem of alienation.
The concept of Alienation has increasingly occupied a forefront in sociological and philosophical interest. This is mainly due to the growing awareness and concern over the negative and unexpected consequences of rapid scientific and industrial progress in contemporary life. Marx’s theory of Alienation involves the relationship between workers in capitalist society and their productive activity or the act of labour itself. Workers do not confirm themselves in their work, they experience their work as misery, their physical and intellectual capacities are stunted, their work is not freely chosen and their work belongs to another. Yes, Marx’s conception of alienation illuminates some premises of the idea of emancipation. From his point of view, this social position discouraged the labourer from taking control of their own future or pursuing ways to climb the social ladder, which put increasing distance between individuals and their human nature.
For Marx, alienation is rooted in the historical situation and its consequences. In the Capitalist society, the creation of objects or production does not help man to realize himself, i.e. to realize his potential. This inability of man to realize his potential while being engaged in the creation of objects causes alienation. Hence, alienation will be overcome when the production of objects will lead to unfolding of the human potentialities. Alienation as exists in the capitalist society has many dimensions. However, three dimensions are fundamental.
Marx developed his theory of alienation to reveal the human activity that lies behind the seemingly impersonal forces dominating society. He aimed to show how, although aspects of the society we live in appear natural and independent of us, they are the results of past human actions. Marx believed that human action could shape a future world free from the contradictions of capitalism. For him, alienation was not rooted in the mind or in religion, as it was for his predecessors Hegel and Feuerbach. Instead Marx understood alienation as something rooted in the material world. Alienation meant loss of control, specifically the loss of control over labour.