Marx on Estranged Labour

Karl Marx is a German author who is most famous for writing the Communist Manifesto with Fredrick Engels. He was a German who wrote on the final socialist revolution after the industrial revolution began to take off in the mid 19th century. Marx also wrote specifically on the plight of the worker from which he derived his Manifesto. Estranged Labor is essentially a treatise on how the worker is treated in the new industrial society.

Marx begins to talk about how the worker has power over his job as he is specialized into his field, however the better he does his job, the more power he is giving to his bosses. He does this by producing more and more as time goes on. This begins to translate into excess profit as the worker performs his job better and better allowing for the industry to hire more workers at lower wages, and consequently cut those of the original employee.

Marx speaks specifically about workers becoming part of a very objectified system, becoming materials, or resources in the eyes of the industry that they built. Workers during the industrial revolution are objectified like that of the raw materials that are essential for manufacturing.

Marx writes to make the point that the workers are the foundation of the new progressive industrial society, but that they are not revered as the true cogs of the machine. Rather they are replaced like one would replace a broken piece of furniture. The working class which is the quintessential part of the new world order, is objectified and given no rights or privileges as they are under the yoke of Capitalism. Marx advocates that revolution is necessary for the workers to receive what they deserve in a society where the work that they do is revered rather then taken off the assembly line without any appreciation or consideration given to the people who made possible the capitalist engine. Marx advocates that worker’s socialism would be the best system because capitalism is essentially an oppression of the masses with the proletariat caught under the weight of corporations.

Frameworks of Social Engineering

How can we truly go about with categorizing populations? In the case of Stalin’s USSR and Nazi Germany, populations were categorized by class and race respectively. Chapter 6 of Beyond Totalitarianism, Christopher R. Browning and Lewis H. Siegelbaum examine the different “radical recategorizations” of the populations in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. <Christopher R. Browning and Lewis H. Siegelbaum, “Frameworks for Social Engineering: Stalinist Schema of Identification and the Nazi Volksgemeinschaft,” in Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, ed. Michael Geyer and Shelia Fitzpatrick (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009)> Browning and Siegelbaum discuss both the Stalinist schema of identification and the Nazi ideal of Volksgemeinschaft and conclude that the need to reach a utopian and ideal society, justified imposing categorizations to better identify “enemies of the state.” In order to categorize populations, identification plays in big role in make categories that have to do with race and class. According to Browning and Siegelbaum,

“The Bolsheviks, without much controversy, identified the landless (batraki) and poor (bedniaki) among the peasantry as proletarians even if many of them did not identify themselves as such.”

This passage struck me the most because it demonstrates the power of the state and its capability to play the role of the “identifier.” In addition, this passage brings many things into question. How do was a proletarian defined as? Better yet, what if many did not identify as such? Similar to Nazi Germany, who was Jewish and who identifies as such? In terms of race, to what extent was someone of Aryan descent or how far can individuals trace back to the Jewish traditions of their families? One important point that I would make about this passage is the idea of human agency. Human agency is the capacity for human beings to make choices and to act in the world. When it comes to identity, it is difficult to categorize individuals in an effort to create a utopian society, because human agency will always exist. Although the state may assume the right to inscribe identity and place the population under categories, does order within these authoritarian societies have the potential to prevail?