The international socialist movement is witnessing a crusade in its own ranks nowadays for Moral Rearmament. To support their conclusions the intellectual apostles of this new tendency lean heavily upon the alienations suffered by man in modern society. Mixing socialist doctrines with psychoanalytical theory, they approach the problem of alienation as though it were pivotal in modern life and treat it as though it were the very centre of Marxist thought.
Their preoccupation with the question has been stimulated by numerous commentaries on recent translations of such early writings of Marx and Engels as The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, The Holy Family and The German Ideology in which the concept of alienation plays a large part.
The intensified interest in this subject is not a mere crotchet of the radical intellectuals. It stems from the very real alienations experienced in present-day society and from the growing antagonism between the rulers and the ruled in both the capitalist and postcapitalist sectors of the world.
The People And Their Rulers
The contradictions of life under contemporary capitalism engender deepgoing feelings of frustration. The wealth pouring from the factories and the farms during the prolonged postwar boom has not strengthened assurance about the future. Instead, it has become another source of anxiety, for it is widely felt that a new depression will follow. Similarly, the enhanced control over industrial processes made possible by automation confronts the workers, not with welcome release from burdensome toil, but with the spectre of chronic unemployment. The command over nature involved in the tapping of nuclear energy holds over humanity’s head the threat of total annihilation rather than the promise of peace and plenty. An uncontrolled inner circle of capitalist politicians and military leaders decide matters of life and death. No wonder that people feel the economic and political forces governing their fate as alien powers.
Although the social soil is different, similar sentiments are widespread in the anticapitalist countries dominated by the bureaucratic caste. Despite the great advances in science, technology, industry, public health and other fields made possible by their revolutions, workers and peasants, students and intellectuals keenly resent their lack of control over the government and the administration of the economy. Freedom of thought, expression and organisation are denied them. Despite the official propaganda that they have at least become masters of their own destinies, the people know that the powers of decision in the most vital affairs are exercised, not by them, but by bureaucratic caliphs. The cardinal duty of the masses in the Communist Party, the unions, the factories and collective farms, the educational institutions and publishing houses is still to obey the dictates from above.
That now discarded handbook of falsifications of history and Marxism edited by Stalin, The History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, closes with the admonition that the “Bolsheviks” will be strong and invincible only so long as “they maintain connection with their mother, the masses, who gave birth to them, suckled them and reared them”. Khrushchev has told how Stalin in his later years never visited the factories or farms and was totally insulated from the lives of ordinary folk. But Stalin’s successor has lifted only a corner of the veil hiding the profound estrangement of the Soviet masses from the “boss men”, as they are called.
Many thoughtful members of the Communist Party have been impelled by the revelations at the 20th Congress and by the Polish and Hungarian events of 1956 to reconsider their former views. Some of them seek an explanation for the crimes of the Soviet leaders and the Stalinist perversions of socialism in the Marxist outlook itself.
This search has led them back to the young Marx. They believe that they have found in the early works, which mark his transition from Hegelianism through humanism to dialectical materialism, the clue to the falsifications of Marxism and the distortions of socialism which have run rampant in the Soviet Union and the communist parties. In these observations of Marx on the alienation of mankind under class society, in particular, they see the basis for a salutary regeneration of the tarnished socialist ideal.
The New Socialist Humanists
These intellectuals have raised the banner of a neo-socialist humanism against “mechanical materialism” and “economic automatism”. The seeds of the evil that bore such bitter fruits under Stalin, they claim, were planted by the “mechanical” Marxists and cultivated by the crudely materialistic Leninists. They call for a renovated morality and a more sensitive concern for the “concrete, whole, living man”. Monstrous forms of totalitarianism are produced by subservience to such “abstractions” as the Forces of Production, the Economic Foundations and the Cultural Superstructure, they say. Such an immoral and inhuman materialism leads to the reappearance, behind socialist phrases, of the rule of things over men imposed by capitalism.
The same message was proclaimed over a decade ago in the United States by Dwight MacDonald, then editor of Politics, and by the Johnson-Forest sect. It is a favourite theme of the social-democratic and ex-Trotskyist writers of the magazine Dissent, It is now becoming the creed of some former Communist Party intellectuals grouped around The New Reasoner in England.
E.P. Thompson, one of the two editors of The New Reasoner, wrote in a programmatic pronouncement in the first issue (Summer, 1957): “The ideologies of capitalism and Stalinism are both forms of ‘self-alienation’; men stumble in their minds and lose themselves in abstractions; capitalism sees human labour as a commodity and the satisfaction of his ‘needs’ as the production and distribution of commodities; Stalinism sees labour as an economic-physical act in satisfying economic-physical needs. Socialist humanism declares: liberate men from slavery to things, to the pursuit of profit or servitude to ‘economic necessity’. Liberate man, as a creative being—and he will create, not only new values, but things in scope and abundance.”
Despite their up-to-date reasoning, the “new thoughts” brought forward by such socialist humanists against dialectical materialism are hardly original. The essence of their viewpoint is to be found in the schools of petty-bourgeois socialism which flourished in Germany before the revolution of 1848. Scientific socialism was created in struggle against these doctrines, as anyone familiar with the ideological birth process of Marxism knows.
The “true socialism” of Moses Hess and Karl Grün sought to base the socialist movement, not upon the necessary historical development of economic conditions and the struggles of class forces, but upon abstract principles and ethical precepts regarding the need for mankind, divided against itself, to recover its wholeness and universality. In the section on “true socialism” in The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels ridiculed these phrasemongers who talked about the “alienation of the essence of mankind” instead of undertaking a scientific investigation of money and its functions.
In their justified revulsion from Stalinism, the new “humane” socialists have not gone forward to genuine Marxism, as they mistakenly believe; they have landed behind it. They have unwittingly relapsed into a stage of theoretical development that socialism and its materialist philosophy surmounted over a century ago. What is worse, in taking this backward leap to a prescientific socialism of the most mawkish variety, they discard both the materialist principles and the dialectical method which constitute the heart of Marxism.
The attempts of these disoriented intellectuals to insert abstract moralistic foundations under Marxism are retrogressive. Yet it must be admitted that the theory of alienation is by no means foreign to Marxism. It did play an influential part in the genesis and formative period of scientific socialism. Indeed, in the history of the concept we find a striking example of how the founders of Marxism divested Hegel’s central conceptions of their “idealist trappings” and placed them on solid materialist supports, transforming both their form and substance in the process. It is worthwhile to ascertain what the Marxist attitude toward alienation really is. This will be the best corrective to the wanderings of those upset socialists who are fumbling for a new equilibrium.
Marx took the concept of alienation from Hegel. In this instance, as in so many others, Hegelianism was the ideological source and starting point of Marxian thought.
Alienation and estrangement are key categories in Hegel’s idealist philosophy. These are the most extreme expressions of difference or “otherness”. In the process of change everything necessarily has a divided and antithetical nature, for it is both itself and, at the same time, becoming something else, its “other”.
But viewed as a whole, the “other” is simply a development of the “itself”; the implicit becomes explicit; the possible, actual. This process is a dual one. It involves estrangement from the original form and the realisation of the essence in a higher form of existence.
In his system Hegel applied this dialectical logic to the evolution of the “Absolute”, his synonym for the whole of reality. The Absolute first exists as mere Logical Idea, self-enclosed like a bud. It breaks out of itself by way of an inner revolution (just how and why is not clear) to a completely alienated condition—Nature. Hegel saw Nature as a lifeless dispersed mode of existence in contradiction to the lively perpetual movement and universal interconnection inherent in the Absolute.
This contradiction drives the Idea forward through a prolonged course of development until it emerges from its material casing and appears as Mind. Mind in turn passes through a series of stages from crude sensation to its highest peak in philosophy, and above all in Hegel’s own idealist outlook.
Throughout this complex process alienation plays the most positive role. It is the expression of the Negative at work. The Negative, forever destroying existing forms through the conflict of opposites, spurs everything onward to a higher mode of existence. For Hegel a specific kind of alienation may be historically necessary at one stage, even though it is cancelled out at the next in the universal interplay of the dialectic.
All of this may appear to be a dull chapter in the life of the German universities of a century and a half ago. But Hegel saw the development of society as one of the outcomes of this evolution of the Idea. Moreover, he traced the course of alienation in human history. He noted such curious items as the fact that man alone of all the creatures on earth can take the objective conditions around him and transform them into a medium of his subjective development. Despite the bizarreness of considering a material process like that to be an expression of the evolution of Idea, such observations, it will be recognised, have a modern ring.
Still more, at turning points in his development, Hegel pointed out, man finds himself in deep conflict with the world around him. His own material and spiritual creations have risen up and passed beyond his control. Ironically man becomes enslaved to his own productions. All this the great philosopher saw with astounding clarity.
Hegel applied the notion of the alienation of humanity from itself to the transitional period between the fall of the Greek city-states and the coming of Christianity; and above all to the bourgeois society around him. Early in his career he described industrial society, as “a vast system of mutual interdependence, a moving life of the dead. This system moves hither and yon in a blind elementary way, and like a wild animal calls for strong permanent control and curbing”. (Jenenser Realphilosophie, p. 237.) He looked to the state to impose that control over capitalist competition.
Of still livelier interest to our nuclear age, he had some sharp things to say about the institution of private property which forces men to live in a world that, although their creation, is opposed to their deepest needs. This “dead” world, foreign to human nature, is governed by inexorable laws which oppress mankind and rob him of freedom.
Hegel also emphasised that the complete subordination of the individual to the division of labour in commodity-producing society cripples and represses human development. Mechanisation, the very means which should liberate man from toil, makes him still more a slave.
On the political plane, especially in his earlier writings, Hegel discussed how, in the Germany of his day, the individual was estranged from the autocratic state because he could not actively participate in its affairs.
The very need for philosophy itself, according to Hegel, springs from these all-embracing contradictions in which human existence has been plunged. The conflict of society against nature, of idea against reality, of consciousness against existence, Hegel generalises into the conflict between “subject” and “object.” This opposition arises from the alienation of Mind from itself. The world of objects, originally the product of man’s labour and knowledge, becomes independent and opposed to man. The objective world becomes dominated by uncontrollable forces and overriding laws in which man can no longer recognise or realise his true self. At the same time, and as a result of the same process, thought becomes estranged from reality. The truth becomes an impotent ideal preserved in thought alone while the actual world functions apart from its influence.
This brings about an “unhappy consciousness” in which man is doomed to frustration unless he succeeds in reuniting the severed parts of his world. Nature and society have to be brought under the sway of man’s reason so that the sundered elements of his essential self can be reintegrated. How is this opposition between an irrational world and an ineffectual reason to be overcome? In other words, how can the world be made subject to reason and reason itself become effective?
Philosophy in such a period of general disintegration, Hegel declared, can discover and make known the principle and method to bring about the unity mankind needs. Reason (we almost wrote The New Reasoner ) is the authentic form of reality in which the antagonisms of subject and object are eliminated, or rather transmuted into the genuine unity and universality of mankind.
Hegel related the opposition of subject and object to concrete social antagonisms. In his own philosophical language he was struggling to express the consequences of capitalist conditions where men are misled by a false and distorted consciousness of their real relations with one another and where they cannot make their wills effective because they are overwhelmed by the unmanageable laws of the market.
Hegel further maintained that the solution of such contradictions was a matter of practice as well as of philosophic theory. Inspired by the French Revolution, he envisaged the need for a similar “reign of reason” in his own country. But he remained a bourgeois thinker who never transcended his idealist philosophy in viewing the relations of class society. In his most progressive period Hegel did not offer any practical recommendations for overcoming existing social antagonisms that went beyond the bounds of bourgeois reform.
It was only through the subsequent work of Marx that these idealistic reflections of an irrational social reality were placed in their true light. Against Hegel’s interpretation of alienation, Marx showed what the historical origins, material basis and real nature of this phenomenon were.
The Young Marx
Marx began his intellectual life as an ardent Hegelian. Between 1843 and 1848, under the influence of Feuerbach, he cleared his mind of what he later called “the old junk” and emerged together with Engels as a full-fledged materialist.
The “humane” socialists are now embarked on the quixotic venture of reversing this progressive sequence. They aim to displace the mature Marx, the thoroughgoing dialectical materialist, with the youthful Marx who had yet to pass beyond the one-sided materialism of Feuerbach.
Marx recognised that the concept of alienation reflected extremely significant aspects of social life. He also became aware that Hegel’s idealism and Feuerbach’s abstract Humanism obscured the real historical conditions and social contradictions that had generated the forms of alienation.
Marx did not reach his ripest conclusions on this subject all at once but only by successive approximations over decades of scientific study. Between his Hegelian starting point and his final positions there was an interim period of discovery, during which he developed his preliminary conclusions.
Marx first undertook the study of political economy, which occupied the rest of his life, in 1843. He pursued this task along with a criticism of his Hegelian heritage. The first results were set down in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts he wrote primarily for his own clarification during 1844. These were published posthumously in our own time and did not appear in their first complete English translation until this year.
These essays were Marx’s earliest attempt at analysing capitalism. In them for the first time he applied the dialectical method learned from Hegel to the categories of political economy. In many passages his ideas are formulated so abstractly and abstrusely that it is not easy to decipher their meaning without a grasp of the terminology and mode of thought prevalent in German classical philosophy.
Whereas in his later works (The Critique of Political Economy, Capital ) Marx takes the commodity as the cell of capitalism, he here puts forward alienated labour as the central concept. He even views private property as derived from the alienation of labour. It is both the product of estranged labour, he writes, and the means by which labour is estranged from itself. “Just as we have derived the concept of private property from the concept of estranged alienated labour by analysis, in the same way every category of political economy can be evolved with the help of these two factors; and we shall find again in each category, for example, trade, competition, capital, money, only a definite and developed expression of these first foundations”, he declares.
Having established alienated labour as the basis and beginning of capitalist production, Marx then deduces the consequences. Labour becomes alienated when the producer works, not directly for himself or a collective united by common interests, but for another with interests and aims opposed to his own.
This antagonistic relation of production injures the worker in many ways. 1. He is estranged from his own body which must be maintained as a physical subject, not because it is part of himself, but so that it can function as an element of the productive process. 2. He is estranged from nature since natural objects with all their variety function, not as means for his self-satisfaction or cultural fulfilment, but merely as material means for profitable production. 3. He is estranged from his own peculiar essence as a human being because his special traits and abilities are not needed, used or developed by his economic activities which degrade him to the level of a mere physical force. 4. Finally, he is separated from his fellow human beings. “Where man is opposed to himself, he also stands opposed to other men.”
Consequently the dispossessed worker benefits neither from the activity of his labour nor from its product. These do not serve as means for his enjoyment or fulfilment as an individual because both are appropriated by someone other than himself, the capitalist. “If the worker’s activity is torment to himself, it must be the enjoyment and satisfaction of another.”
The object which labour creates, the labour product, becomes opposed to man as an alien essence, as a power independent of the producer. “Wage-labour, like private property, is only a necessary consequence of the alienation of labour.” Society can be emancipated from both private property and servitude only by abolishing wage-labour.
Marx honoured Hegel for seeing that man is the result of his conditions of labour. He found this primary proposition of historical materialism in Hegel, though in an idealist shape. The greatness of the Phenomenology, Marx observed, lies in the circumstance that “Hegel conceives the self-production of man as a process —”
Marx criticises Hegel for seeing only one side of this process, the alienation of consciousness, and neglecting the most important aspect of labour in class society, the alienation of the actual man who produces commodities. Marx accepted Feuerbach’s view that Hegel’s philosophy was itself an abstract expression of the alienation of mankind from itself. Hegel’s Absolute Idealism separated the thought process from real active and thinking persons and converted it into an independent, all-powerful subject which absorbed the world into itself. At bottom, it was a sophisticated form of religious ideology in which the Logical Idea replaced God.
In the Hegelian dialectic, Nature, the antithesis to the Idea, was nothing in and for itself; it was merely a concealed and mysterious embodiment of the Absolute Idea. However, Marx, following Feuerbach, pointed out that this Absolute Idea was itself nothing but “a thing of thought”, a generalised expression for the thinking process of real individuals dependent on nature.
Marx pays tribute to Feuerbach for exposing the religious essence of Hegel’s system and thereby reestablishing the materialist truth that Nature, instead of being an expression of the Idea, is the real basis for thought and the ultimate source of all ideas.
Hegel, Marx said, discovered “the abstract, logical and speculative expression for the movement of history”. What Marx sought to do was to uncover the real motive forces in history (comprising both nature and society in their development, as he was to emphasise in The German Ideology ) which preceded all theorising and provided both the materials and the motives for the operations of thought.
Moreover, Hegel had mistakenly identified all externalisation of man’s vital powers in nature and society with alienation because it represented an inferior grade of the Idea’s existence. Actually, the objectification of his capacities is normal and necessary to the human being and is the mainspring of all progress. It is perverted into alienation only under certain historical conditions which are not eternal.
Many brilliant thoughts are to be found in the pages of The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. For example, Marx brings out the differences between the animal and human senses in a way that counterposes his historical materialism to vulgar materialism. Sensation is the basis for human knowledge as well as for the materialist theory of knowledge. Although the human sensory equipment is animal in origin, it develops beyond that. Human senses pass through an historical, social and cultural development which endow us with far more discriminating modes of sensation than any known in the animal state. “The cultivation of the five senses is the work of the whole history of the world to date”, he concludes.
Capitalism is to be condemned because it blunts sensitivity instead of sharpening it. The dealer in gems who sees only their market value, and not the beauty and unique character of minerals, “has no mineralogical sensitivity”, he writes; he is little different from an animal grubbing for food. The task of civilisation is to develop a specifically human sensitivity “for the whole wealth of human and natural essence”.
An entire school of contemporary American sociologists, headed by David Reisman, has based its analysis of the condition of men in “the mass society” on the fact that the average person is bored and depressed by the drudgery of his work in factory or office and finds satisfaction for his individuals needs only in leisure hours. The split between labour and leisure under capitalism was long ago noted by Marx in these manuscripts where he pointed out: “Labour is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his essential being. Therefore he does not affirm himself in his work but denies himself. He does not feel contented but dissatisfied. He does not develop freely his physical and spiritual energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself to be himself outside his work, and in his work he feels outside himself. He is at home when he is not working, and when he is working, he is not at home.”
Development Of The Concept Of Labour
Marx did not leave the concept of labour as treated in these early essays. Extending the range of his criticism of bourgeois political economy and probing deeper into the secrets of capitalist production, he filled out and corrected his original presentation. He developed the features and forms of labour into a brilliant constellation of diversified determinations, reflecting the facets of the many-sided relations of production in their historical evolution.
The younger Marx, swayed by Feuerbach’s humanism, analysed capitalist relations by counterposing what is dehumanised to what is truly human. The later Marx viewed them in terms of class oppositions.
Most important was his discovery of the twofold character of labour: the concrete labour which produces use-values and the abstract labour which produces exchange value. In abstract labour Marx found the essence of alienated labour in commodity-producing societies. His discovery, which Engels rightly lauded as Marx’s chief contribution to the science of political economy, enabled him to explain the nature of commodities and the source of value as well as such mysteries as the power of money. The distinction between the two kinds of labour asserts itself at every decisive point in his analysis.
Marx took another step beyond his predecessors by distinguishing between labour as a concrete activity which creates specific use-values and labour power, the value-producing property of labour. He demonstrated how the peculiar characteristics of labour power as a commodity make capitalist exploitation possible. He also showed that the exploitation of labour in general, under all modes of class production, is based on the difference between necessary and surplus labour.
It would require a summary of the whole of Capital to deal with all of Marx’s amplifications of the concept of labour. The pertinent point is this: the complex relations between capital and labour which were sketched in broad outline in the early essays were developed into a network of precise distinctions. The concept of alienated labour was broken down into elements integrated into a comprehensive exposition of the laws of motion of capitalism.
Primitive Source Of Alienation
Before examining the specific causes of alienation under capitalism, it is necessary to note that the phenomenon is rooted in the whole previous history of humanity. The process by which man becomes oppressed by his own creations has passed through distinct stages of evolution.
The most primitive forms of alienation arise from the disparity between man’s needs and wishes and his control over nature. Although they have grown strong enough to counterpose themselves as a collective labouring body against the natural environment, primitive peoples do not have enough productive forces, techniques and knowledge to assert much mastery over the world around them. Their helplessness in material production has its counterpart in the power of magic and religion in their social life and thought.
Religion, as Feuerbach explained and Marx repeated, reverses the real relations between mankind and the world. Man created the gods in his own image. But to the superstitious mind, unaware of unconscious mental processes, it appears that the gods have created men. Deluded by such appearances—and by social manipulators from witch doctors to priests—men prostrate themselves before idols of their own manufacture. The distance between the gods and the mass of worshippers senses as a gauge for estimating the extent of man’s alienation from his fellow men and his subjugation to the natural environment.
Alienation is therefore first of all a social expression of the fact that men lack adequate control over the forces of nature and have thereby not yet acquired control over sources of daily sustenance.
Dialectical Development Of Alienation
Alienation has been a general feature of human history. The alienation of labour, however, is peculiar to civilisation and is bound up with the institution of private property. In primitive society men are oppressed by nature but not by the products of their labour.
The rudimentary alienation observable in the magic and religion found in savagery and barbarism becomes overlaid and subsequently overwhelmed by another and higher type of alienation engendered by the conditions of class society. With the development of agriculture, stock breeding and craftsmanship, the most advanced sectors of mankind became less directly dependent upon raw nature for their food supplies. They increased their sources of wealth and reduced nature’s oppression.
But civilised man’s growing control over nature was attended by a loss of control over the basic conditions of his economic activity. So long as production remained simple but collective, as in primitive tribal life, the producers had control over their process of production and the disposition of their product. With the extension of the social division of labour, more and more goods became converted into commodities and entered exchange in the market.
The producers thereby lost control over their product as it became subject to the laws of the commodity market. In turn, these laws came to rule the producers to such an extent that in time men themselves became commodities to be bought and sold. Slavery was the first organised system of alienated labour; wage labour will be the last.
Wage labour is a special type of alienated labour. In this mode of production the labourer becomes the victim of the world market, a slave to the law of supply and demand, to such a degree that he can stand idle and his dependents starve when there is no demand for his labour power as a commodity.
The historical groundwork for the alienation suffered by the working class is private property in the means of production. This enables the owners to appropriate the surplus product of the labourers. There is nothing mysterious about the material origin of alienation in class society. It comes about as a consequence of the separation of the producers from the conditions of production and thereby from what they produce. When the labourers lose control of the material means of production, they forfeit control over their lives, their liberties and their means of development.
Hegel pointed this out when he wrote in the Philosophy of Right : “By alienating the whole of my time, as crystallised in my work, and everything I produced, I would be making another’s property the substance of my being, my universal activity and actuality, my personality.”
This second kind of alienation reaches its apex under capitalism, where every individual involved in the network of production and exchange is ruled by the laws of the world market. These function as coercive external powers over which even the masters of capital have no control, as the fluctuations of the business cycle demonstrate.
The influence of the earlier type of alienation, on the other hand, based upon lack of command over the forces of nature, lessens as technology and science expand with the growth of the productive forces from one stage of civilisation to the next. As Marx wrote: “The miracles of God become superfluous because of the miracles of industry.” Today, when man’s conquest of nature is conclusive, though far from completed, the influence of unconquered nature as a factor in producing alienation is small compared to its economic causes.
Alienation Of Labour Under Capitalism
The alienations imposed by capital upon tabor reinforce and intensify those forms of alienation carried over from the barbarous past by adding to them estrangements bred by capitalism’s own peculiar type of exploitation. It is necessary to analyse the economic foundations of capitalist society in order to bring out its characteristic processes of alienation.
1. Capitalism emerges as a distinct and separate economic formation by wrenching away working people from precapitalist conditions of production. Before capitalism could be established, the mass of direct producers had to be separated from the material means of production and transformed into propertyless proletarians. The processes of expropriation whereby the peasants were uprooted from the land and the social elements fashioned for the wage labour required for capitalist exploitation in Western Europe were summarised by Marx in Chapter XIX of Capital .
2. However, the alienation of the producers only begins with the primary accumulation of capital: it is continually reproduced on an ever-extended scale once capital takes over industry, Even before he physically engages in the productive process, the wage-worker finds his labour taken away from him by the stipulations of the labour contract. The worker agrees to hand over his labour to the capitalist in return for the payment of the prevailing wage. The employer is then free to use and exploit this labour as he pleases.
3. During the productive process, by virtue of the peculiar divisions of labour in capitalist enterprise, all the knowledge, will and direction is concentrated in the capitalist and his superintendents. The worker is converted into a mere physical accessory factor of production. “The capitalist represents the unity and will of the social working body” while the workers who make up that body are “dehumanised” and degraded to the status of things. The plan, the process, and the aim of capitalist production all confront the workers as alien, hostile, dominating powers. The auto workers on the assembly line can testify to the truth of this fact.
4. At the end of the industrial process the product which is its result does not belong to the workers who made it but to the capitalist who owns it. In this way the product of labour is torn from the workers and goes into the market to be sold.
5. The capitalist market, which is the totality of commodities and money in their circulation, likewise confronts the working class—whether as sellers of their labour power or as buyers of commodities—as an alien power. Its laws of operation dictate how much they shall get for their labour power, whether it is saleable at all, what their living standards shall be.
The world market is the ultimate arbiter of capitalist society. It not only rules over the wage-slaves; it is greater than the most powerful group of capitalists. The overriding laws of the market dominate all classes like uncontrollable forces of nature which bring weal or woe regardless of anyone’s plans or intentions.
6. In addition to the fundamental antagonism between the exploiters and the exploited, the competition characteristic of capitalism’s economic activities pits the members of both classes against one another. The capitalists strive to get the better of their rivals so that the bigger and more efficient devour the smaller and less productive.
The workers who go into the labour market to sell their labour power are compelled to buck one another for available jobs. In the shop and factory they are often obliged to compete against one another under the goad of piecework.
Both capitalists and workers try to mitigate the consequences of their competition by combination. The capitalists set up trusts and monopolies; the workers organise into trade unions. But however much these opposing forms of class organisation modify and restrict competition, they cannot abolish it. The competitiveness eliminated from a monopolised industry springs up more violently in the struggles between one aggregation of capital and another. The workers in one craft, category or country are pitted, contrary to their will, against the workers of another.
These economic circumstances generate unbridled individualism, egotism, and self-seeking throughout bourgeois society. The members of this society, whatever their status, have to live in an atmosphere of mutual hostility rather than of solidarity.
Thus the real basis of the forms of alienation within capitalist society, is found in the contradictory relations of its mode of production and in the class antagonisms arising from them.