Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Originally, alienation meant insanity. Alienation is also one of those words that started off as a philosophical concept and yet has now become almost a part of everyday speech. New meanings have been ascribed to it and old meanings have been re-interpreted, so that it is hard to tell exactly what it does mean – other than denoting a general feeling of being dissatisfied in some way. It has been argued that, in spite of the presence of the notion of alienation in Marx’s later writings, Marx abandoned his early theory of alienation and the presence of the notion of alienation in the later works is then explained away in some way, e.g. that the concept of alienation shifted and no longer refers to it earlier formulation. Whether or not Marx came to reject the notion of alienation, a more important question for us to consider is that of its usefulness now in our work for socialism. So where does this leave the notion of alienation?
Nowadays, it means estrangement or loss. Isolated. Alienation in production has led to individual powerlessness, and to a general feeling of isolation and frustration. Workers today have become alienated and estranged from their livelihood, from the very things that they have produced, and from their fellow workers; indeed, even from themselves. People have become atomised, mere cogs in a wheel, rushing hither and thither for no apparent reason other than toiling on behalf of an employer, real or abstract. They have become alienated. It has weakened the “self”, and stifled creativity.
There is a strong feeling that a socialist society will allow a free development of human potential in a way that is impossible under capitalism. the material advances that capitalist development has opened up have produced new notions of what it is to be human. But at the same time capitalism prevents the realisation of this for the working class. Indeed, this can be seen as one of its many contradictions. It is this alienation that the socialist revolution will abolish, whilst, in addition, new notions of what it is to live “humanly” will themselves be developed in the course of socialist development.