Reading Across Marx: What Becomes of the Concept of Alienation?

I intend to trace the development of Marx’s critique of alienation into an understanding of commodity fetishism that necessitates an immanent critique of capitalism as opposed to a critique from the standpoint of labor. Rather than simply announcing that one of Marx’s “early” lines of thought (the theory of alienation) is irrelevant in light of his “mature” conceptual developments (commodity-fetishism), or neglecting the crucial advancements that the latter proposes for itself (as Traditional Marxism often has), fundamentally this will be an attempt to show how Marx’s lines of thought in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (EPM) establish the conditions and lay the groundwork for his interpretation found in Capital, though the latter, in its critique of fetishism specifically and its modification of the conception of human nature, reads against the EPMat certain points.

For the sake of this paper, I take Marx’s efforts to define and critique alienation in The Economic and Philosophical Manuscript of 1844 (hereafter EPM) and his criticisms of ideological formations in The German Ideology to be part of a single ongoing project, what editor Robert Tucker terms “The Critique of Capitalism”.1I highlight Marx’s attempts at various points of his career yet the focus will remain on the EPM and Capital, as emblematic of his efforts to critique capitalism. From this orientation towards Marx’s work I argue that the mode of critique takes the form of an analysis of what Marx conceived of as the salient social fact of modern life structured by capital: alienation. Below I hope to clarify Marx’s conception of alienation and the specific form of alienation which concerned Marx inCapital, fetishism. Along the way I will draw in recent Marxist commentators on the subject to supplement my account.

To begin our investigation it is necessary to have a working definition of alienation. Alienation carries the meaning of universal exchangeability, yet it also signifies social estrangement. It is the characteristic of the capitalist mode of production, which mediates a person’s livelihood through the production of commodities and mediates social relations through the exchange of commodities.

Writing in German, Marx used the words entfremdung and entäusserung, both of which have been variously translated as ‘alienation’ or ‘estrangement’.2 In theEPM, Marx sketches out the parameters and implications if this phenomenon, which is both tangible yet analytically obscured under capital. He pursues this line of thought by listing the two fundamental operative conditions of labor in capital. Alienation is a mode of domination by an external power that is created by the self. In capital, one of the most pronounced processes of alienation is the alienation of labor. It seems clear that Marx chose to analyze the alienation oflabor under capital, as opposed to analyzing alienated thought or ritual, because for him the role that labor played as a category ostensibly representing “purposive activity directed towards the satisfaction of a need”, since it is altogether more complicated, revealed two two fundamental points: 1) that the most basic human behavior—the metabolism of nature—is transformed by capital; and 2) that social relations are materially-mediated. I would like to clarify that the latter point is sometimes defined as “materialism”, which is correct though it may be misleading in that it appears similar to gross forms of economic or technological-determinism.

The Alienation of Labor Under Capitalism

Labor under capitalism is differentiated by all other modes of purposeful activity by two operative conditions: labor’s objectification (vergegenständlichung) and its alienation. What is meant by these two processes? Objectified labor is the performative creation of the laborer through value-production in the labor-process. The laborer in capitalism is a commodity-seller no less than any other merchant; they bring the productive hours of their daily lives to market in the form of purchasable commodity, labor-power. As Marx writes, “labor produces not only commodities; it produces itself and the worker as a commodity—and does so in the proportion in which it produces commodities generally.”3

From another angle, in capitalism labor becomes objectified as it is realized in the material substance of an object, yet “labour’s product… confronts it as something alien, as a power independent of the producer”.4 Alienation in labor is characterized by the exteriorization of the product of labor—the fact that production happens for the sake of exchange and not direct consumption. Thus, the objectification of labor and the alienation of labor are two movements of a single process; they lead into each other though they are analytically separate. The objectification of labor is two-sided; it is the creation of an object with its own existence and the creation of the laborer as the object of their labor. The alienation of labor is the phenomenon of the objects externality from the producer. For Marx this process involves a tendency towards the de-realization for the worker: “it is clear that the more the worker spends himself, the more powerful the alien objective world becomes which he creates over-against himself”.5 In the preceding passage we get a glimpse at the development of the theory of self-generated domination, that will become central to Capital.

But what else do we learn about alienation from the EPM?

In the Manuscripts, Marx takes political-economy as his point of departure because he feels that the work of Smith, Ricardo, et al, in some ways accurately reflected modern life, though they have presupposed categories that they should interrogate; they lack an appreciation of the temporal development of their categories over time. As remarked earlier, Marx theory rests on treating alienation as the salient social fact of capitalist society. But what causes alienation? Marx gives us the following account: Exchange relations encourage competition (laborer vs. capitalist, laborer vs. laborer, capitalist vs. capitalist) which inevitably leads to the accumulation of capital into a few hands. Thus, “the worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces”. This extraction of surplus value from the worker is a form of alienation. Yet it is also a form of exploitation if viewed from the standpoint of labor. In his critique of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon we see that Marx views the alienation of labor under capital to be more fundamental to modern society than exploitation. Further, the critique of exploitation is not a sufficient critique of alienation.

By way of summary, Marx writes that the appearance of modernity, defined as the universalization of the value-form of productive activity, signifies “theobjectified essential powers of man in the form of sensuousalienuseful objects, in the form of estrangement, displayed in ordinary material industry (which can be conceived as a part of that general movement, just as that movement can be conceived as a particular part of industry, since all human activity hitherto has been labour—that is, industry—activity estranged from itself).”6 Yet this theory of society also implies a critical stance towards modern society.

Following Feuerbach’s critique of the alienation created by the occult power of obscurantist thought, Marx writes: “Just as in religion the spontaneous activity of the human imagination, of the human brain and the human heart, operates independently of the individual—that is, operates on him as an alien, divine or diabolical activity—in the same way the worker’s activity is not his spontaneous activity. It belongs to another; it is the loss of his self.”7 In this passage the line is blurred (at least on a metaphorical level) between alienated labor and commodity-fetishism. The significance of this will be explained later.

Marx’s moralistic denunciation of alienated labor in the EPM(describing it as “diabolical”, the “loss of self”) should be compared with his balanced critique inCapital. In Capitalhe treats capital as a dehumanizing force, certainly, but he also takes pains to argue that capital is also productive of the human. I.e. in his later work there is nothing resembling the statement “what is animal becomes human and what is human becomes animal”, in its obvious indignation.8 Rather, Marx in Capitalsees capital as the condition for a new conception of the human. His earlier discussion of species-beingand communism, are noticeably inconspicuous in Capital. He omits the “universality of human”, which is cast aside in favor of a historically specific, quasi-universal human nature. This shift may appear as an inconsistency in Marx’s approach. However, the modification of Marx’s concept of man does not trouble us too much here. In fact, the latent critique of alienation in Capital represents a continuation of Marx’s earliest political projects. As he wrote for the Deutsch-Franzöische Jahrbücher under the name “The Ruthless Critic of All that Exists”, his task was to “consist only in putting religious and political questions into self-conscious human form….”9Indeed, this project is exemplified beautifully in his treatment of alienation and fetishism.

From the above it is clear that Marx’s theories of alienation and fetishism were also critiques. The standpoint from which these critiques can be made marks one of the most drastic modifications in his lifelong project. For Marx in the EPM, viewing alienation through the lens of 19th century German humanism, alienation was the negation of the human. Marx was borrowing from a tradition of the critique of alienation that found its most pointed iteration in Hegel and Feuerbach, but that, as Mészáros argues, stretches back to political-economy and even the Bible.10 The EPM, as Erich Fromm has persuasively argued, showcase a humanist concern in Marx that is not widely appreciated. Fromm’s book, Marx’s Concept of Man, is a series of introductory essays commemorating the first English-language edition and explaining the significance of the EPM. Fromm’s book is usually published with the EPMas an appendix and relates Marx’s points for an audience not already versed in the Manuscripts. The essays, I argue, also showcase the limits of relying on a critique of exploitation to develop a political project. Fromm is correct to ground Marx’s argument in the EPM in a form of humanism. Equally so, it is incorrect to assume that “the human” meant the same to the later Marx as it did for him in 1844.

Citing Herbert Marcuse, Fromm points out that Marx viewed humans to have an essence(wesen), albeit one that is “as much historical as ontological”.11 The human-essence is the standpoint from which alienation can be critiqued. In this sense, alienation is unambiguously destructive—it is not only the estrangement of the individual from their species-being, but it is the separation of the individual from their productive life-process itself.12 Limited to these parameters, the critique only offers, as a political project, the critique of exploitation and not the critique of value-producing labor as such. Erich Fromm, reading a fundamental humanism into Marx, points to the EPMas evidence of Marx’s conception of humanity’s self-alienation through capital. In Fromm’s reading, Marx’s project is a critique from the standpoint of the individual’s species-being. The humanistic critique, then, of alienation logically led to a new conception of non-alienated life, which Marx termed species-life (gattungsleben), alternately, species-being (gattungswesen).13

Marx writes that “estranged labor… makes his life-activity, his essential being, a mere means to his existence.”14 From this standpoint, if the only difference between commodity fetishism and the critique of alienation is a more nuanced understanding of the quasi-objectivity of human life, then it stands to reason that a critique of capitalism from the perspective of the individual worker is ethical and consistent with his mode of presentation in Capital if we refrain from assuming any objective moral framework for such. We can see the individual to be alienated without imposing a species-being on them for to do so would be to privilege the objective over the subjective. I believe this is the crucial transition that marks the revised articulation of the critique of alienation in Capital from that in the EPM.

It is suggestive that in the interim of Marx’s drafting of the Manuscripts and his work on Capital, Marx encountered a possible avenue for making such a critique. This was the publishing of Max Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own. Marx’s rebuttal of ‘St. Max’s individualism in The German Ideology aptly addressed some of the glaring problems of Stirner’s work, but I would suggest that Marx took away from Stirner more than he let on. Specifically, he conceded that capital creates the potential for a radical individualism that is only quasi-objective. Thus, Stirner’s point about the “human religion” was well-taken by Marx. As Stirner writes, “liberalism is a religion because it separates my essence from me and sets it above me, because it exalts ‘man’ to the same extent as any other religion does its God or idol, because it makes what is mine, out of my qualities and my property, something alien….”15 Stirner was also dealing with a form of alienation. For him, the liberal (humanist) concept of human nature as an essentialist discourse is alienating from the standpoint of the individual. In other words, human-essence is a form of reification.

Taking the denunciations contained in The German Ideologyas, in one sense, homages, the case can be made that it signifies a turning point for Marx. To clarify, this is not an argument for a purely subjectivist critique of alienation as Stirner advocated; however it does point to a modification of Marx’s project from an objective standpoint to a specific standpoint. This break is expressed for us in the shift of Marx’s conception of political projects. The fact that Marx’s theory leads into a critique implies a political project. However, Marx came to see the extension of any anti-capitalist political project to be bounded by the effects of reification, which is a specific form of alienation. Marx in The German Ideologybegan to grapple with the Young Hegelian critique of religion, a theme he frequently returned to, and that would later solidify into his critique of fetishism.

The critique of alienation was shared by most of the Young Hegelians. Feuerbach used it to skewer religion and Moses Hess used it to shed light on how current social and political forms prevented humanity from realizing socialism. Marx borrowed from these two contemporaries, but he also sought to differentiate himself from them. Marx criticizes the Young Hegelians for limiting their inquiries to critiques of religious conceptions that are in the end themselves religious.16 It is not in the purview of this essay to relay an account of Marx’s argument in The German Ideology. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that if there ever was a textual basis in Marx for the so-called “materialist conception of history”, it would be here among Marx’s denunciations of his quandom colleagues, Bauer, Stirner, and Feuerbach. Marx chides them for “in no way combating the real existing world when they are merely combating the phrases of this world.”17 Here Marx is equating reality with “material surroundings”. This may just be an overextension of his case against the idealism of the Hegelians. In other words, he is trying to critique their fundamentally religious attitudes even as they themselves battle against various other theological stances.

It is necessary here to confirm that Marx is employing an epistemology based on an understanding of fundamental, axiomatic knowledge of the world’s material conditions, as opposed to his heuristic of historical specificity and immanent critique used in his later work, Capital. To quote Marx: “The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made int he imagination…These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way.”18 Thus, the text carries duplicitous meanings.

For on the other hand, the critique of fetishism follows from Marx’s development of the “modes of production” thesis in The German Ideology. A mode of production for Marx is “a definite form of activity of… individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part. (150)” Thus, for Marx the production of individuality is not simply material, though it is determined by material reality. Expressing life is a matter both of producing a certain thing and producing it in a certain way. Human existence is not ontological; it is constituted by human social activity. As he writes in Wage Labor and Capital, “The social relations of production, change, are transformed, with the change and development of the material means of production, the productive forces. The relations of production in their totality constitute what are called the social relations, society, and specifically, a society at a definite stage of historical development….”19 Later, in Capital, we see how the capitalist mode of production—the production of commodities—structures social relations in a particular way that are obfuscated by commodity fetish, they appear as simply relations between things.

While the critique of exploitation is not the adequate critique of capitalism, there are no indications in Marx’s text that would lead us to assume that he discounted it. This critique is the banner that socialism has rallied behind since before Marx’s time, and it is a movement that he sympathized deeply with. And, as is especially apparent in his chapter on “The Working Day”, Marx was still a socialist agitator even in his philosophical works. Still, Marx should be distinguished from many socialists, both contemporary to him and later Marxists.

There are numerous Marxist approaches to the problem of capital: Crisis Theory, which holds that capital will collapse under its own momentum, independent of the voluntary efforts of people; State Communism, which advocates the construction of a revolutionary anti-capitalist state under the leadership of a vanguard party; and to a lesser extent there is the libertarian left communist current which I would like to touch upon on in this essay. The first two approaches are clearly problematic—the first is both politically quietist and technological determinist, the second has demonstrated its own shortcomings in practice. Both also have an approach to modernity that is problematic. Modernity is neither teleological—Marx called it boundless—, nor can it be challenged symmetrically, voluntaristically, and regardless of historical dynamics. Political projects must avoid reifying their struggles yet they should still be politically engaged. In the discussion of Harry Cleaver’s reading of Capital that will follow, I will point to an elegant attempt to constitute this critique.

It is worth briefly reviewing Marx’s prefatory on Capital in order to highlight his concern for political engagement. Marx’s work was dedicated to the global working class. “One nation can and should learn from others”, as he put it.20 And he meant to focus on the conditions of the most modern economy of his time, England, so that the workers living in other national contexts could “shorten and lessen the birth-pangs” of encroaching modernity.21 Encroaching because all nations were prone to developing into a modern state resembling England: “The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future.”22 Marx was reporting from the front lines of modern capitalism, hoping to arm humanity with the theoretical tools to mitigate the deleterious features of modernity.

I would like to bring in a recent take on Marx’s political project which advances beyond Fromm’s humanism and the Leninist “Traditional Marxism” mired in positivistic misrecognitions. Like Marx’s project, Harry Cleaver’s book Reading Capital Politically takes as its orientation a critique of alienation. Cleaver’s focuses on the politics of Capital because he views the class dimension of social relations under capital to reveal capital’s fundamental alienation. To state the reverse, the form of alienation articulates class differences. Further, for Cleaver classes are not objective features of natural human society, but are historically constituted social groups. While Cleaver acknowledges this, he is still in a position to argue for a class-based struggle against exploitation as long as it is fundamentally a struggle against the existence of class. His position is summarized in response to Jean Cohen:

Cohen argues that the working class, as a class created within capital, cannot have demands or ‘interests’ which go beyond capital…But the point is that those individuals do face capital as a class-in-itself — they have all the same basic characteristics vis a vis capital — and the only way they can obtain the power necessary to overthrow its system is by acting together as a class-for-itself. Once they have burst the doors and escaped the social factory, then the opposition to capital which presently binds them together will be gone and post-capitalist society can be created….23

Thus, for Cleaver the working-class is the quasi-subject of history. This reading can situate Marx’s theoretical work alongside his political engagement, which is important since a failure to do this misses Marx’s intent. This is no less central to Marx even as he writes “men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please…”24 It simply means that the historical position that we find ourselves in is the only appropriate starting-point for our politics.

Finally, I would like to focus on Marx’s theory of fetishism as developed in Capital. I argue that the concept of fetishism should be seen as a specific form of alienation. In juxtaposing alienation and commodity-fetishism, I hope to display a significant continuities in spite of the radical breaks in Marx’s thought. One fundamental break that separates the critique of alienation from that of fetishism is the statement and repudiation of the “materialist conception of history”. Whereas in his earlier work Marx can establish a critique of alienation-as-such based on his footing in a real, materialist universe, in his later work after working through an understanding of the structural constraints to any transhistorical vantage points, he revises the critique and levels it against fetishism.

Implicated in this epistemological shift is the position of the species as subject of history. Marx presupposes that 1) humans are social and interact with each other on a social level; 2) that these interactions lead to increased population; and 3) a mode of production is developed to enable the livelihood of this increased population. In capital, this mode of production is the cause of alienation.

This is the critique of the reification inherent in the theoretical projects of the political-economists. Marx criticizes the political economists for positing bourgeois assumptions, and thereby naturalizing them. Abstractions can’t be mapped onto other historical moments but must be specific to their society of origination. “Political economy starts from labour as the real soul of production; yet to labour it gives nothing, and to private property everything. From this contradiction Proudhon has concluded in favour of labour and against private property. We understand, however, that this apparent contradiction is the contradiction of estranged labour with itself, and that political economy has merely formulated the laws of estranged labour.”25

Proudhon, a leading French socialist in the 19th century, was also concerned with the problems of capitalist modernity. His anti-capitalist project, which can be termed “mutualism”, essentially advocated for equitable remuneration for labor, a position Marx attacked, calling such demands “better payment for the slaves”.26 This demonstrates the difference between alienation and exploitation—one can exist without the other. The truer liberation is the cessation of alienation. Below I hope to investigate Marx’s theory of fetishism in an attempt to highlight how it can serve as a critique of political orientations that naturalize commodity-relations as Fromm does.

In the fourth section of “The Commodity” chapter of Capital, the section titled “The Fetishism of the Commodity and Its Secret”, we discover one more characteristic of the commodity: its ability and tendency to be fetishized. Fetishism is not an existential category like alienation, but is a form of thought. Marx begins by elaborating on how the ostensibly concrete categories of mainstream political-economy, specifically the commodity, are not a complete account of the social relations of production. The problem is that the bourgeois political-economists take the commodity-form for granted; they grasp it at the level of appearance only, and thus fetishize it.

But to take a step back, Marx begins by provisionally agreeing with the political-economists. Yes, he concedes, the appearance of the commodity is an appropriate point of departure. It’s not a falsehood that commodities are created by human labor and they are useful. Moreover, the political-economists were right to see the value of a commodity as determined by the socially necessary labor-time involved in its production—this labor being social in nature, meaning that is is done for the purpose of exchange.

Political-economy fails to see this social relation as existing between producers. It sees only the products of labor in relation to each other. In his words, “It [exchange-relations] is nothing but the definite social relation between men which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things.”27We can attribute this phenomemon to the nature of labor under capitalism. Specifically, we produce commodities so that they can be exchanged. Thus our only obvious exchange relation to other producers is that we interact with them only to the extent that they produce commodities. What we have are “material relations between persons and social relations between things.”28

Marx chooses to title this phenomenon “the fetishism of commodities”, borrowing a religious term signifying that the creations of human labor appear to be independent, to live a life on their own. Marx lists some of the attendant effects of the fetishism of commodities: 1) A failure to see social relations between producers of commodities even as they exchange commodities with each other; 2) A reduction of all qualitatively different labor to the value-form, thus making all labor commensurable; 3) Confusion over the substance of value; seeing it as something other than the crystalization of labor-power; 4) Missing the social character of private labor.

Ultimately, the fetishism of commodities naturalizes that which is historically specific. A perfect example of this is that gold and silver, or any other metallic currency, are things whose values is assumed to be intrinsic to them, though of course if one were to rigorously interrogate the issue we would find that the values of such things exist purely as social relations. Revisiting the first chapter of Capital with this in mind, we see Marx’s argument to be that the commodity is not only a thing. It is also the structure of labor-in-capitalism, turning all labor in value-production and obfuscating its own specificity as a social form. The “Fetishism of Commodities” is not an argument that commodity fetishism hides “social truth”; it is instead an argument that commodity fetishism hides historical specificity. Commodity-relations are quasi-objective. The consequences of this theory for Marx’s book are deep. Marx is not only describing, but also demonstrating the constraining force of commodity-relations on the critique. Marx suspends the critique of capitalism inside a historically specific framework. Capital is immanent to the object of its critique.

The section of Chapter 1 on “the fetishism of commodities” is not Marx’s last statement on fetishism; each section of chapter 3 is an account of another type of fetish within capitalism. Marx’s concept of human labor here refers to the abstraction of qualitatively different types of individual labor is at odds with his approval of the universalistic species-being of earlier works (EPM, etc.). It’s clear that Marx had to drop the concept of species-being to make his argument about the totalization of capital-relations, the flattening of human activity accomplished in capitalism.

Capital is a totalizing process that shapes social relations through the imposition of the value-form. By Marx’s account, “If, in the first place, the worker sold his labour-power to capital because he lacked the material means of producing a commodity, now his own individual labour-power withholds its services unless it has been sold to capital.”29 While a conventional definition of alienation would focus on the exploitation of the worker by the capitalist, this is not Marx’s approach. Even in a worker-owned corporation the workers still labor for capital, albeit abstracted. Marx writes, “the general character of the labour process [which is the production of capital, the development of capitalist social-relations] is evidently not changed by the fact that the worker works for the capitalist instead of for himself….”30

The fetish operates on multiple levels. Thus, the commodity-form is not the only phenomenon of capital that is granted autonomous life. In the labor-process the labor of the worker, which appears to be simply goal-directed application of labor-power to a useful ends, is in fact a means—both for the laborer and the capitalist labor is a means to another end. This is the condition of Exchange-relations, which Marx touches upon in the second chapter of Capital. Marx writes that. in exchange-relations, “the persons exist for one another merely as representatives and hence owners, of commodities.”31

Fetishism is generalized under capital, which is assumed to exist as a social totality. In the text Marx is grappling with the question of where to begin with his critique of political economy. Because if thought is historically contextual, transhistorical a priori axioms are illegitimate. Overall, the question is how to prepare a theory that is both historically self-aware and yet rigorous. His development of the argument for a historically-specific conception of labor as opposed to a transhistorical one has momentous significance for socialist political projects. The difference between the critique of alienation and the critique of fetishism can be explained by the unfolding of Marx’s concomitant argument on the historical specificity of forms of thought.

In the above essay I singled out some of the categories and lines of thought that concerned Marx for the entirety of his career. This was not meant to be a comprehensive account of his views on alienation or human nature. Rather, I hope that we can learn from reading across Marx. By tracing the development of his conception of alienation into and out of fetishism, we can speculate as to what a robust and textually-grounded Marxist politics might look like.


Cleaver, Harry. Reading Capital Politically. London: AK Press, 2000.

Fromm, Erich. Marx’s Concept of Man. London: Continuum, 1994.

Marx, Karl. Capital. Vintage: New York, 1976.

Mészáros, István. Marx’s Theory of Alienation. London: Merlin Press, 1970.

Stirner, Max. The Ego and Its Own. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Tucker, Robert C., ed. The Marx-Engels Reader. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1978.

1Robert C. Tucker, ed. The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed. (New York: Norton, 1978).

2Entäusserung is also sometimes translated as ‘externalization’.

3Tucker, 71.

4Tucker, 71.

5Tucker, 72.

6Tucker, 90.

7Tucker, 74.

8Tucker, 74.

9Tucker, 15.

10István Mészáros, Marx’s Theory of Alienation (London: Merlin, 1970), 28.

11Erich Fromm, Marx’s Concept of Man (London: Continuum, 1994), 25.

12 Building upon this, Fromm treats labor as a transhistorical category: “Labor is the category which mediates between man and nature; labor is man’s effort to regulate his metabolism with nature. Labor is the expression of human life and through labor man’s relationship to nature is changed, hence through labor man changes himself.” [Fromm, 13] Yet he also notes that Marx’s conception of labor is not consistent with the above definition: “Marx originally called man’s function ‘self-activity’, not labor, and spoke the ‘the abolition of labor’ as the aim of socialism.”Fromm is defining alienation as the “negation of productivity”, but shouldn’t alienation still be a form of productivity? t is productive of something other than humanity’s self-creation. Alienated labor is labor that is not put toward the full benefit of the individual laborer.

13 As an aside, the shift away from any discussion of transhistorical human essence—species—and universality is also an implicit critique of positivism, which troubles any conclusions about Marx’s ‘early humanism’ and ‘late scientific socialism’, Pace Engels. It also complicates Fromm’s appeal to critique alienation from the standpoint of species-being. This is essentially a privileging of the EPM over Capital, which I argue misses the thrust of Marx’s methodological point in Capital—its critique of positivism.

14Tucker, 76.

15Max Stirner, The Ego and Its Own (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 158.

16Tucker, 148-9.

17Tucker, 149.

18Tucker, 149.

19Tucker, 207.

20Marx, Capital (NY: Vintage, 1976), 92.

21Marx, 92.

22Marx, 91.

23Harry Cleaver, Reading Capital Politically (London: AK Press), 84.

24Tucker, 595.

25Tucker, 79.

26Tucker, 80.

27Marx, 165.

28Marx, 166.

29Marx, 482.

30Marx, 291.

31Marx, 178-9.

2 responses to “Reading Across Marx: What Becomes of the Concept of Alienation?

  • Leen V.

    Have you read Bertell Ollman’s Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in Capitalist Society? He essentially argues the same point; the main themes in Marx are essentially consistent throughout his entire body of work. He never really abandoned the concept of alienation for exploitation.

  • D C

    Ollman’s book is one of the sources I should have consulted while researching this piece. I’ll definitely have a look at it now.

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