Alienation in Marxist theory

CPI released a statement condemning the Dublin riots which contained the word “alienation”. How is alienation connected to the riots?  Alienation is a concept put forward by Hegel, and was also mentioned by William Thompson who according to James Connolly was the first Irish socialist. Alienation literally means separation, and though the products of labour are alienated from the producer in any exploitative society, it is more pronounced in the capitalist mode of production.

Alienation arises from commodity fetishism. Individuals cannot produce all they need, so they produce for each other, hence it becomes social labour. When the social relations between commodity producers are perceived as relations between objects this is called “commodity fetishism”. Fetishism is inherent in commodities and it is intensified when value takes the money form. Commodity fetishism reflects how the capitalist system can shape consciousness and create conditions for alienation.

In Capitalism,  the market gives the workers the “freedom” to sell their labour power, but once the worker enters the workplace that “freedom” is lost and they become a wage slave forced to  produce surplus value. The products of labour are alienated from the worker and appropriated by the capitalist.

Alienation from the production process was caused by the introduction of modern machinery into the production process. In the days of handicraft and manufacture, the means of production were owned by producers and workers handled the tools, but in modern machinery the tools are handled by machines and the worker becomes merely an appendage of the machine which is owned by the capitalist. The division of labour is so acute that the worker has to repeat the same function monotonously throughout the working day, without any creativity.

Marx saw that this alienation has a social impact. The product of labour, which is an objective manifestation of the worker’s expenditure of brain, nerves and muscles, becomes the property of the employer and the worker loses control over it. This lack of control on the production process and product of labour makes the worker alienated from their true nature and others. Therefore they feel they have no control over anything, including their own lives. The alienation originating from the production process under capitalism results in an general indifference towards society and atomisation. The people are alienated from political engagements because they have lost hope to influence public policy and resigned to the fact that they cannot change anything.

The UN Human Development Report which a language trends in books in the last 125 years shows that the expressions relating to mental distress and depression have increased sharply.

It is not a justification of violence when we say that the riot shows us the catharsis of people who are the victims of a system which makes them feel worthless and powerless to fight the system, and instead find immigrants as easy targets. They become lumpen elements in the hands of right wing hate mongers who are openly racist and xenophobic, and propagate the lie that immigrants are the ones who take away your jobs and resources. The stabbing incident was just a trigger for these misguided mobs.

Racism has its roots in capitalism, because during the slave trade on which capitalism flourished, the capitalists had to justify the inhumane activity and had the necessity to establish that coloured people are racially inferior to the Europeans.

What brought the immigrants and refugees to Europe? Imperialism needs incessant war, and refugees are the by-product; equally, capitalist exploitation of Nature creates climate change refugees.

Globalization removed all barriers for the mobility of Capital and labour. Labour-intensive jobs were offshored to third world countries which caused unemployment in the developed countries. At the same time labour from abroad was brought in to check the wage rise. Hence offshoring and immigration are caused by capitalists to accumulate surplus value.

The world is in the midst of a third long depression after the one between 1873 to 1890, the Great Depression of 1929 and the current one which started in 2008. Capitalism comes out of every crisis by creating misery for the working class: the maintenance of a reserve army of labour is necessary to sustain the system and unemployment can never be solved under capitalism. Joblessness is a creation of capitalism and immigrants have no part in it.

We cannot keep capitalism and desire to eradicate racism, xenophobia and unemployment because it’s capitalism that created these miseries to ensure its own survival. It is wishful thinking to desire peace and social order under capitalism.