Karl Marx’ Theory of Alienation – When You are More a Robot Than a Worker or Colleague
In the 1844 Manuscripts , Marx identifies four dimensions of alienated labour in contemporary capitalist society (MECW 3: 270–282).
First , immediate producers are separated from the product of their labour; they create a product that they neither own nor control, indeed, which comes to dominate them. (Note that this idea of “fetishism”—where human creations escape our control, achieve the appearance of independence, and come to oppress us—is not to be equated with alienation as such, but is rather one form that it can take.)
Worker 2020-AJ showed up for his shift at plant B1 – line 24 second shift. Having had his coffee and toast, he turned on the machine. He was given the day’s quota he must produce and began work, alone. Though every hour on the hour he felt the breath of his line supervisor on his neck. No words were exchanged. There wasn’t time, unless the line needed to be stopped. And Worker 2020-AJ knew there were very few circumstances that allowed the line to be stopped. And his safety wasn’t one of them. Neither was talking to the supervisor. So he let the line continue, and kept his mouth shut.
When his work was done for the day, Worker 2020-AJ passed by the office and gift shop as he walked out the door, heading for his car. To keep his balance and bearings in the line of workers he only saw in the break room, he glanced at the glass walls of the gift shop. There were some of the products the company made on display. But he had no idea where his little piece was in the completed item for sale. He just knew it was in there, or they were selling an incomplete product, and that would be illegal to do. He was pretty sure the company were skin-flints, but not that bad.
Worker 2020-AJ arrived home and greeted his wife and kids. The kids asked what he had done that day, And he drew a diagram of the item and where it was supposed to be in the object when it was assembled. The kids looked at him in awe. But all he could do was shrug. It’s not like he remembered each piece as it screamed and hissed by him so fast he had to be careful his arm didn’t get caught, or that he didn’t get dizzy from the speed of the belt going by him. Some of the workers actually fainted and had to be changed to another line when it happened. When they got back from the hospital.
Worker 2020-AJ went to bed after supper cuzz tomorrow he had a double shift. They were short-handed tomorrow and his supervisor had asked him to do the extra shift. There were school fees and dentist’s bills due so he agreed.
That was getting harder and harder to do, cuzz Worker 2020-AJ was feeling himself slip further and further away. And he didn’t know how to stop it.
Worker 2020-AJ slept the sleep of the oppressed. Where a giant cog he had spent the day producing was chasing him. He woke up dismayed cuzz his sheets were soiled again.