Karl Marx is regarded as one of the founders of sociology. His work remains highly influential to sociologists today. In this essay I shall discuss three of his main ideas: alienation, the labour theory of value and communism. Marx was largely inspired by the French revolution. His divisive book, The Communist Manifesto, captured the spirit common to the revolt. He wrote passionately about challenging the capitalist society that still exists today. Marx is known for being a political economist. His work highlighted the relationship between social life, the economy and the structure of society.
The first idea I will discuss is Marx’s theory of alienation. According to Marx, alienation is the process whereby the worker is made to feel foreign to the products of his/her own labour. https://www.cla.purdue.edu/english/theory/marxism/terms/alienation.html (accessed October 12th 2018). He believed that working under a capitalist society distanced a person from their labour, themselves and others around them. Marx argues that labour is central to a human being’s self-conception and sense of well-being. SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Karl Marx (1818–1883).” SparkNotes LLC. 2005. http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/marx/ (accessed October 12, 2018). Marx describes labour as a process of creation which produces a sense of fulfilment and personal achievement. This labour creates an identity for each individual as the labour belongs to them. Satisfaction often came from owning the product of one’s labour.
Marx therefore did not agree with capitalism and saw it as hostile. Under capitalism, trade and industry were privatised rather then being run by the state. Workers were removed from the overall production and became like a small cog inside a highly developed machine. Labourers worked as if part of an assembly line, unaware of the larger commodity being produced. This was known as Taylorism. Labour was broken down into smaller fragments as it was more efficient at producing surplus capital. In this way, peoples’ labour was sold for profit. Work became a means of survival. No personal satisfaction was achieved as the work being produced no longer belonged to the individuals working. Marx argued that one became removed from humanity as making useful things out of nature is fundamental to the human condition. Thus, one became alienated from what it is to be human. This further alienates people from each other. Marx believed this would lead to an antagonistic social relationship which would lead to eventually overthrow capitalism. Though capitalism remains today, Marx argued that is not permanently fixed, as other social systems have dominated society before and he was convinced that the social structure would change again.
Secondly, Marx developed the labour theory of value. The theory’s basic claim is simple: the value of a commodity can be objectively measured by the average number of labour hours required to produce that commodity. – Marxism, David Prychitkohttps://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/Marxism.html (obtained on October 12th 2018). A commodity is a good or service that is produced for the market that has a use and exchange value. Marx claimed that ‘real work’ was producing commodities. Under capitalism, people could not add their own opinions or changes to the commodities that they were producing. This further alienated people from their labour. The key commodity was the labour itself. Everyone had a price and could be bought or sold.
“The less skill and exertion of strength implied in manual labour the more modern industry becomes developed, labour of men is superseded by that of women. Differences of age and sex have no longer any distinctive social vadility of the working class. All are instruments of labour, more or less expensive to use according to their age or sex.”
– Marx, The Communist Manifesto.
To solve this, Marx suggested the idea of communism. Under this communist society, wealth would be more evenly distributed between all members of society. He predicted that the unfairness experienced by labourers within society would eventually lead them to rise up and overthrow capitalism, restructuring society under communism.
” It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Specter of Communism with a Manifesto of the party itself.” Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto
I agree with Marx’s theory of alienation in that when one becomes distanced from their work, they lose interest and do not ensure the commodity produced is of the highest standard. Today, many large scale industries outsource their labour to countries such as India and China. Labourers here are paid a fraction of the wage received in Ireland. This leads to a surplus of revenue which produces profit for the company or individual but the worker does not benefit. I think that this is unfair as labourers are treated with little respect and are seen as disposable. This exploitation of workers is a huge social injustice. Their labour is often tedious and working conditions are poor.
Marx’s labour theory of value seems ideal in theory; however it is not common practice. Under capitalism, commodities are often mass produced, so the time it would normally take to produce something is halved. This in turn lowers the price. For example, coffee beans are sold relatively cheap in relation to the amount of hours of labour that goes into growing, harvesting, roasting and packaging the coffee beans. This is because the beans are mass produced in huge coffee plantations where farmers do not receive a fair wage for their labour.
Unlike Marx, I do not support communism as a solution to capitalism. The practice of communism in countries such as China has not solved the poverty crisis like Marx had hoped. In reality, wealth cannot simply be divided evenly amongst everyone within a society.
In conclusion, all the most important aspects of Marx’s work yield large questions rather than neat solutions. This, however, is not Marx’s weakness but his strength,
SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Karl Marx (1818–1883).” SparkNotes LLC. 2005. http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/marx/ (accessed October 12, 2018) Marx offers a new perspective on a capitalist society. It is clear that Marx made impressive observations of the impacts of a capitalist society on an individual in his theories of alienation, labour theory of value and communism. His solutions to these problems are flawed, but do spark a new conversation for building a fairer and more just society.