Karl Marx on Alienation

Alienation in general refers to ‘Separation from.  For Karl Marx it is a phenomenon related to the structure of those societies in which the producer is divorced from the means of production and in which “dead labor” (capital) dominates “living labor” (the worker).

Let us take an example of a shoemaker in a factory. A shoemaker manufactures shoes but cannot use them for himself. His creation thus becomes an object which is separate from him. It becomes an entity which is separate from its creator. He makes shoes not because making shoes satisfies merely his urge to work and create. He does so to earn his living. For a worker this ‘objectification’ becomes more so because the process of production in a factory is decided into several parts and his job may be only a tiny part of the whole. Since he produces only one part of the whole, his work is mechanical and therefore he loses his creativity.

In Marx’s sense alienation is an action through which (or a state in which) a person, a group, an institution, or a society becomes (or remains) alien )

1) to the results or products of its own activity (and to the activity itself), and/or

2) to the nature in which it lives, and/or

3) to other human beings, and in addition and through any or all of (a) to (c) also

4) to itself (to its own historically created human possibilities).


Alienation is always self-alienation, i.e., one’s alienation from oneself through one’s own activity.


Mere criticism of alienation was not the intention of Marx. His aim was to clear the path for a radical revolution and for accomplishing communism understood as “the re-integration of one’s return to oneself, the suppression of one’s self-alienation”. Mere abolition of private property cannot bring about DE-alienation of economic and social life. This situation of the worker, or the producer does not alter by transforming private property into state property. Some forms of alienation in capitalist production have their roots in the nature of the means of production and the related division of social labor, so that they cannot be eliminated by a mere change in the form of managing production.


According to Marx, the materialistic structure or economic structure is the foundation or base of society. In other words, it is also called the infrastructure. The superstructure of society rests on it. Infrastructure includes mode of production and hence forces of production and relations of production. 


All social, political and cultural institutions of societies excepting economic institutions constitute the superstructure of a society.


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