Author: Karl Marx was 26 at the time of publication. Four years before he would publish his most commercially famous work The Communist Manifesto and about twenty years before the publication of das Kapital. Marx was a Trier born (what is now Germany) philosopher and revolutionary. The year before the publication of Estranged Labour, Marx had moved to Paris where he wrote for a radical newspaper.1
Context: Marx is writing towards the end of the industrial revolution. Technology and industry was expanding rapidly, allowing each worker more efficacy. However, this increase in production did not come with more pay or protection. Marx is writing at a time in which a labors production greatly exceeded his compensation. To quote Marx, “The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more commodities he creates.”
Language: I believe Estranged Labour was originally published in Marx’s native German. More than that, its written in the style that Marx is well known for. While being well written by an obviously well-educated man, its hard to ignore the anger flowing through the writing. Marx’s use of rhetoric seems to be directed at those not as well educated as he. The words he emphasizes are simple, and have strong negative connotations. (ie, greedy, alien, bondage, hostile). Marx’s use of religious language is intended to have the same effect, to the reader it is understandable and relatable.
Audience: As mentioned above, the intended audience of this piece is not expected to have the same education level as Marx. Marx is writing to the workers whom he writes about, or other sympathetic readers. He paints the laborer as a hard worker who’s labor is exploited by the system in which he works.
Intent: Unlike Communist Manifesto this is not a call to arms. It some ways, it is an expository piece. Marx is writing to inform workers that they are being exploited, and to tell them the method of their own exploitation. Marx writes this piece to identify that the system needs to be changed, and to suggest that the proletariat lead that change, however he is not calling for the revolution that he will in just four years.
Message: Capitalism exploits those who sell their labor to the means of production.
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Marx [↩]