Marx and Estrangement: Rethinking the Politics of the American Revolution

HUMN 221- Group 1


In “Estranged Labour,” Marx pulls no punches in his description of the plight of workers. He makes it very clear that he feels that the economic system in place in industrial Germany in the mid 19th Century has stripped workers of their humanity. He draws this conclusion from the realization that the economics of the time period considered workers to only be worth the value of their labor, that is the value of what they produced. Alone, this way of thinking about the worker would not be disastrous, but the economic system also gives nothing back to the workers; the workers do not choose how and when they labor and are kept subservient, in a state of slavery if you will, by their lack of access to capital, which is a feature of the economic system. By being reduced in such a way, the workers, according to Marx, lose their humanity and become alien.

However, Marx’s thinking is not entirely new itself. The Framers of the United States and those philosophers that inspired them, like Locke, attempted to address similar issues as Marx. For these political theorists, the issue of humanness, though, was not an economic issue, but rather a political one. The oppressive forces on humanity were not imbalanced economics, but imbalanced governing. The thought process is similar though; for the Framers, if individuals revolt and claim those political rights that they believe all individuals are entitled to, then a new balance will be set in place. Marx believes in a similar ideal; if the workers can rise up and claim their fair share of capital, then the economic system, and society in general, will also fall into balance.

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