One of the greatest philosophers of history and politics, Karl Marx has often been painted and repainted by several regimes that pretended to follow his theories to unleash totalitarian governments on their people. Let’s take a look at the German philosopher who changed the world as we know it, and see if we can separate the propaganda from the philosophy!
Alienate and Exploit!
The crux of Marx’s philosophy was built on two ideas- alienation and exploitation.Alienation, an idea that Marx explored in detail in his younger age, is the loss of oneself in another. For Marx, the idea is stripped of any metaphysical meaning and is extremely practical- incarnated by the concept of work. While work is something absolutely essential to man and is something that differentiates from the animal, not all work is designed to lead to the enlightenment and the blossoming of his spirit. In fact, many times, products created by man- including money- escape his grasp and become abstract ideas that enslave him. Hence many forms of work, such as that of a worker in a 19th century lumber factory, erases the identity of the worker instead of actually contributing to his uplift.
3 Degrees of Alienation
This alienation by work happens due to 3 realities of the modern world. Merchandise not Product: Unlike artisans who identify themselves with their product, the modern worker fabricates a merchandise which has no mark of his identity and hence leads to the effacement of his own. He puts his life into building something which is always a stranger to him. The Nature of Work: The modern worker sees work itself as something alien to his nature. He no longer identifies himself in his work and in fact feels that work is something imposed on him from outside- just a way of sustenance. He flees from work instead of finding himself in it. He feels he belongs to the owner and cherishes his time away from work where he becomes more an animal than a human-using his free time to drink, eat and sleep. No longer Human: Having lost the essence of what differentiates man from animal- the identification of oneself in work- the modern worker no longer feels human. “Man has become stranger to Man” as Marx said.
And onward to Exploitation:
While alienation is a philosophical concept, Exploitation, for Marx, was a economic concept. One cannot eradicate alienation without removing exploitation, which causes it in the first place,To understand the economics of exploitation Marx explained that the value of a product is linked to three factors: the average social-time it takes to produce a product (average because not every worker works at the same pace), the value attached to it by its utility to the user and of course the price of the product which fluctuates with the market.Now no employer pays the worker for the entire time that he has worked on a product. If a worker works for 12 hours, maybe he is paid for 6 hours which is calculated as the number of hours he needs to be paid on an average to make sure he survives well enough to continue working for the employer. The remaining 6 hours of work, for Marx, that are unpaid for contribute to the profits in a capitalistic system. This idea of paying for only a part of the work done is what Marx calls exploitation.While this kind of exploitation is not a facet of only capitalism, as it is an idea that exists from the days of antiquity, Marx writes that in capitalism the idea of salary and the idea of bonuses mask the fact that several hours are being done by the worker free of charge to the employer.
The Clash of The Classes
For the owner, his objective is to increase his profit either by decreasing the number of hours the worker works for to create a product (increase productivity) or increase the number of hours he works unpaid for. For the worker his demands are exactly the contrary. With each class trying to maximize its interest, the capitalist society sooner or later, according to Marx, leads to a clash of the classes, which is inevitable.To analyze this clash of the classes, Marx developed a new science. He postulated that “It is not the consciousness of men which determines their social being, it is their social being which determines the consciousness of men” Thus history, according to Marx, is fashioned by these economic factors and not by ideas. All society is composed of the means of production ( technology, raw material etc, and of course man power) and the class system (i.e the owners, the workers etc.) How rich a society is in its productive-force determines how the class relation in it is structured.
Make Way for A Revolution!
But these productive forces are not static. They evolve if only because there is scientific and technical progress. They will therefore one day have to enter into contradiction with the relations of production and also the superstructures which always tend to keep the regime in place. Consequently, the productive forces can no longer evolve. They are blocked. It is this contradiction which, according to Marx, explains the economic crises. The only way to resolve the contradiction is to change the relations of production which correspond exactly to what Marx calls a revolution. In a revolution, the dominated (revolutionary) class becomes the dominant class. The bourgeoisie i.e. the owners, were an authentic revolutionary class during the transition from the feudal system to the capitalist system, but once they turn dominant the new oppressed (the proletariat) would lead the revolution. This would lead to their dictatorship until the next revolution. And how true is that!