Karl Marx's Theory of Alienation Essay Sample

Karl Marx


Karl Max used the theory of alienation to describe how people become alienated from their human nature aspects resulting from living in a society that is graded according to social classes. Alienation therefore results from living in a society that has different social classes as this alienates a person from his/her humanity. Based on the capitalist mode of production, the main aspect of this alienation theory is that a worker loses his or her ability to determine his or her destiny and life because he or she is denied the right to conceive or think for himself or herself. When this right is denied, a worker can never be the director of his actions; neither can he determine the sort of actions that he can take (Wood, 2004)

By being alienated, a worker cannot define his/her relationships with other people and is not in a position to use the goods and services that he/she produces. Despite the fact that a worker is a mature and self-realized human being with the capability of making sound decisions, he/she is directed to work in order to achieve the goals of those that employed them or those who have their own means of production. The owners of means of production therefore extract the maximum of surplus value from a worker, and thereby, flourish in business. According to Karl Marx, alienation is the structure that will allow a capitalist society to grow since they cannot exist without it. The theory explains that in a capitalist society, people should be divided according to such structures so that they accept that it is just and natural (Hodson & Sullivan, 2012).

Forms of Alienation

The alienation theory discusses four ways of how labor becomes alienated in a capitalist society. The first one is alienating a worker from what he has produced. The way that a product is going to be produced is not determined by a worker or consumer. It is the capitalist class that determines it. The capitalists use their resources to determine the required labor and materials that will be used in manufacturing a product while maximizing the profits. The labor of the workers is then converted into products to be utilized by the consumers. The capitalists then maximize their output by selling the products at the highest rates possible and paying the workers the least possible salaries for the labor (Marx & Caute, 1967).

The second form of alienation is alienating a worker from production. In a capitalist society, the mode of production requires that worker engages in an endless sequence of repetitive activities that usually leave a worker with no psychological satisfaction. The capitalists reward the efforts of the workers through wages, which, in most cases, are not proportional to the input of the latter into the production process. This division of labor in a capitalist society further leads to the exploitation of the workers, therefore limiting his power to determine how their labor is applied to the production (Wood, 2004).

The third form of alienation is a system whereby a worker is alienated from himself being a producer. By nature, workers are supposed to have psychological dynamism and plurality of interests meaning that every person has a tendency and desire to engage in different activities that tend to socially connect people. The workers through their cognitive ability should be able to see the end of their effort as purposeful ideas. A person is supposed to draw motivation from seeing how good the final product looks as a result of the labor that he/she used. A worker is therefore deprived of his/her ability to subordinate his/her will to the demands that have been imposed upon him by his imagination (Churchich, 1990).

The final form of alienation is where a worker is alienated from his/her fellow workers. Alienation reduces the worker’s labor to commercial goods that are traded in the labor market as opposed to being an important figure in the socio-economic activity of a society. Capitalists therefore create a labor market that is competitive; hence, they are able to extract maximum labor value from workers. This form of alienation therefore pits the workers against each other, provoking social conflict and alienating them from their common economic interests.

Solution to Alienation

Marx thinks that the solution to this problem is communism. In a communist society, each worker works in a position where he/she has best skills and abilities, hence benefiting each worker accordingly. Communism makes the workers work on the basis of their innate abilities as opposed to working based on orders and wages. The production of goods and services in a communist society will therefore be directed towards achieving the needs of everyone as opposed to the capitalist system where the capitalists largely benefit. The collective requirements of the society determine the preferred mode of production in a communist society, hence resulting in equal distribution of profits that each worker gets. Communism, according to Marx, is capable of restoring the fullest determination of workers in their work.


According to how Marx defines it, alienation is a bad thing because it is a form of exploitation. In a capitalist society, these are the workers that do the hard work, but the profits are enjoyed by the capitalists. Alienation denies the workers the ability to exercise control over the effects of their efforts. Alienation prevents the workers from specializing in a specific type of productive labor; hence, the workers are reduced to an object and instrument that cannot apply his labor to the betterment of his or her life.

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