Karl Marx developed his theory of alienation in his early writings, particularly in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844). Using the German words Entfremdung (to estrange, make alien, rob) and Entäusserung (to alienate, part with, sell, externalize), Marx outlined various ways in which human beings become alienated in their lives, particularly in the course of the labor process. According to Marx, human beings experience a loss of control over their lives and over the creations that constitute the basic institutions and processes of society, such as the state and work. This alienation or estrangement means that human beings have a sense of living in a world that is alien and hostile, and they experience their lives as meaningless, unsatisfying and worthless. Ultimately human beings live their lives in a way that is less than fully human; they are dehumanized. Marx derived his theory of alienation from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s notion of alienation and his own critique of Hegel. For Hegel alienation referred to the process of “Spirit” (Geist) externalizing itself in the creation of reality, but failing to grasp that the world was not something external to Spirit. Spirit, through human consciousness, gradually comes to realize that the world is the creation of Spirit, and in so doing overcomes alienation. Marx, treading in the footsteps of the “Young Hegelians” and Ludwig Feuerbach critiqued and moved away from this notion of alienation rooted in idealist philosophy. Following the line of thought developed by the Young Hegelians and by Feuerbach in particular, Marx identified the problem of religious alienation where human beings create the notion of God and attribute to this creation idealized features of themselves. Having created God and projected on to it our most essential features, we then give it an independent existence and bow down to worship this entity that is entirely our own creation. This process sees the externalization of our essential features and the fashioning of an alien entity out of them which then has a power over us.
   In religious alienation we become separated from our essential selves, and this occurs in an even more significant way in the labor process. Human productive active is fundamental to us, not just as the way in which we produce our subsistence, but also as the way in which we develop and express our human potential. However, in class society, and in capitalism in particular, the process of production is a process by which individuals become alienated. First, individuals are alienated from what they produce. For example, a worker in a factory creates a product which is then sold by the factory owner when, where, to whom and at what price he sees fit. The worker has no control over the product that he has created. Secondly, an individual is alienated from the conditions of the work process, that is, he has no control over the process of production, does not own the tools of production and, increasingly under capitalism has to perform dull, repetitive tasks requiring little imagination, skill or creativity. Thirdly, an individual is alienated from his “species-being,” that is to say, he is unable to develop and express his essential human characteristics. Human beings, according to Marx, are essentially productive creatures and it is in the course of producing that we distinguish ourselves from animals. Unlike animals human beings produce consciously, planning their actions and using imagination and creativity. Human beings can exercise their will and not just act according to instinct, and they are also essentially social and cooperative, but all these characteristics are denied in the labor process in capitalism. The restrictions placed on us by a class society where the majority do not have free access to the means of production, where there is a highly specialized division of labor, and where control is exercised over our labor by bosses and impersonal market forces serve to prevent work from being the enriching and fully human activity it should be. For Marx the solution to the problem of alienation is communism; the overthrow of capitalism with the abolition of the division of labor and private property will make de-alienation possible. The theory of alienation is controversial among Marxists and Marxist commentators with some, for example Stalinists and structuralist Marxists such as Louis Althusser, viewing it as essentially a product of Marx’s immature thought and a theory that he left behind as he developed his more sophisticated and scientific notions of historical materialism and of exploitation in particular. However, Georgii Lukács, Herbert Marcuse, Jean-Paul Sartre, Erich Fromm and Gajo Petrovic are notable Marxists who have accorded a place of importance to the theory of alienation in Marx’s thought.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • ALIÉNATION — Le mot «aliénation» est, aujourd’hui, en langue française, un mot malade. Il souffre de cette affection que certains lexicologues appellent «surcharge sémantique»: à force de signifier trop, il risque de ne plus rien signifier du tout. La… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Alienation — Aliénation Dessin de Francisco Goya Le terme aliénation, à l origine terme juridique, servira par la suite à désigner la dépossession de l individu et sa perte de maitrise de ses forces propres au profit de puissances supérieures, que celles ci s …   Wikipédia en Français

  • alienation — I (estrangement) noun abhorrence, abomination, acrimony, alienatio, animosity, antagonism, antipathy, aversion, bitterness, breach, break, deflection, disaffection, disfavor, disruption, division, enmity, execration, hostility, implacability,… …   Law dictionary

  • Alienation — may refer to:*Alienation (property law), the legal transfer of title of ownership to another party * Alienation , the medical term for splitting apart of the faculties of the mind *Social alienation, the individual subject s estrangement from its …   Wikipedia

  • Alienation — Al ien*a tion, n. [F. ali[ e]nation, L. alienatio, fr. alienare, fr. alienare. See {Alienate}.] 1. The act of alienating, or the state of being alienated. [1913 Webster] 2. (Law) A transfer of title, or a legal conveyance of property to another.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • aliénation — ALIÉNATION. s. f. Transport de la propriété d un fonds, ou de ce qui tient lieu de fonds. Aliénation d un domaine, d une terre. [b]f♛/b] On dit, L aliénation des volontés, des esprits, pour, L éloignement que des personnes ont les unes pour les… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • alienation — Alienation. s. f. v. Il a toutes les significations de son verbe. Alienation d une terre, d un droit de meubles precieux. alienation des volontez, des esprits. alienation d esprit …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • alienation — (n.) transfer of ownership, late 14c., from O.Fr. alienacion and directly from L. alienationem (nom. alienatio) a transfer, surrender, noun of action from pp. stem of alienare (see ALIENATE (Cf. alienate)). It also meant loss or derangement of… …   Etymology dictionary

  • alienation — Alienation, Distractio, Alienatio, Abalienatio. Alienation d entendement, Alienatio mentis …   Thresor de la langue françoyse

  • Alienation — (v. lat.), 1) Veräußerung; bes. 2) (ital. Alienamento), Verkauf vor dem Ausbruch eines Concurses; ist gesetzlich verboten (Alienationsverbot), s. u. Concurs; 3) (A. mentis, Entfremdung des Verstandes), Geistesverwirrung. In Deutschland selten, in …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Alĭenation — (lat.), Entfremdung, Entäußerung, Veräußerung, Entwendung; Alienatio mentis, Geisteszerrüttung …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon