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Technology,Capitalism,andAlienation

Theaimofthisessayistoexaminetheroleoftechnologyinmodernlabourpractices
alongsideMarxsclaimthatcapitalismcausesalienation.Thisessaywillbecomposedoftwo
sections.ThefirstsectionwillsketchthefourcomponentsofMarxstheoryofalienation.The
secondsectionwilldealwithtechnologyinmodernworkingconditions.Itwillexamineboththe
biasednatureoftechnologyaswellasitsalienatingeffects.Theconclusionreachedisthat
technologyincontemporarylabourconditionscanexplainMarxsclaimthatcapitalismcauses
alienation.
SectionOne:TheoryofAlienation
Inordertoexaminetherelationshipbetweentechnologyandalienationitisnecessaryto
firstgiveabriefsketchofMarxstheoryofalienation.Marxstheoryofalienationconsistsof
fourcomponentseachbeingdistinctfromthenext,yetallproducedbythecapitalistmodeof
production.Thefourcomponentsare:(1)alienationfromtheproduct(2)alienationfromthe
activity(3)alienationfromeachotherand(4)alienationfromourspeciesbeing.Eachelement
shallbeindividuallyoutlinedhenceforth.

Alienationfromtheproduct
Underthecurrenteconomicsystemtheworkernecessarilyfindshimself
alienatedfrom
theproduct
becausehehimselfdoesnotowntheproductofhislabourshedoesnotownthe
objectificationofhislabour.Theworkerandhislabourbecomecommoditiesunderthecapitalist
modeofproductionhesellshislabourtotheownerofthemeansofproduction,thecapitalist,in
exchangeforwages.Theworkerthuscannotreapwhathesowsintheformofhislabours
objectificationrather,thegoodsheproducesareappropriatedbythewagepayer.Manis
alienatedfromtheproductbecauseheexternalizestherealizationofhislabourfromhimself
(Marx,2000,pp.858).

ForMarx,thisexternalizationofmanslabourfromhimselfensuresthatmanrelatesto
hisobjectifiedlabourinanalienwaytheproductofhislabourbecomesanindependentpower
standinginoppositiontohim.Manobjectifieshimselfinhislabour,butasthisproductis
appropriatedinexchangeforwages,theproductthenstandsovertheworkerasapoweragainst
him.Theironyofthisrelationisthattheworkerplaceshimselffurtherundertheslaveryofhis
laboursproductsthemoreheproduces.Thecapitalistmodeofproductionrequiresthe
exploitationofasurplusvalueitrequiresthelabourertoproducegreatervaluethanthevalueof
hiswagesandothercapitalinitiallyinvested.Thusthemoreheproduces,thegreaterpowerhe
transferstotheownersofcapitalthemoreheobjectifieshislabour,themorevalueisexploited
tooppresshimthereafter(Marx,2000,pp.858).

Alienationfromtheactivity
Alienationdoesnotrestrictitselftothefinishedproduct,accordingtoMarx.Ifalienation
isfoundintheproduct,itmustbefoundalsointheactivityitself,fortheproductismerelythe
summaryoftheactivityofproduction(Marx,2000,p.88).Sincetheproductofmanslabouris
externalized,theactivityofproducingtheproductiswhatMarxcallsactiveexternalizationof
labour(p.88).Thelabourersobjectificationofhimselfisexternaltohimselfbecausehedoes
notownhislabour.Theactivityoflabour,muchliketheproductsoflabour,arealientothe
workerandinoppositiontohim.Hefindsnosatisfaction,nomeaninginhisworkhisworkis
notvoluntary,yetremainsnecessaryforhissubsistence(Marx,2000,pp.889).
Marxstatesthatman,underconditionswherehislabourisalienated,doesnotworkto
fulfillagivenneedrather,manlaboursforthemeanstofulfillneedsoutsideofhislabour.This
isevidenced,accordingtoMarx,bythefactthatmantakesgreatpainstoavoidworkwhenit
isntnecessary.Whenmanlaboursundertheseconditionshelaboursforsomeoneelsesgainhe

denieshimselfsatisfactioninhisworkbecausewhenhelabourshisproduct,hislabour,belongs
tosomeoneelse(Marx,2000,pp.889).
Marxconcludesthissectionbyclaimingthatbecausemanisalienatedfromtheactivity
thatislabouring,heonlyfeelstrulyhimselfinsituationswhereheisfulfillinghisloweranimal
needseating,drinking,procreating(p.89).Tofeelathomeintheactivitieswhichweshare
withnonhumansistodenythatwhichseparatesusfromloweranimalsitistodenyour
speciesbeing,towhichwellshortlyturn(Marx,2000,pp.889).

Alienationfromeachother
Thealienationofmanfromhisfellowsis,accordingtoMarx,thedirectresultofour
alienationfromtheproduct,theactivity,andourspeciesbeing.Formantobealienatedfromhis
speciesbeingistobealienatedfromothers,becausetheytooareallalienatedfromour
speciescharacteristic.Ourrelationshipwithothersisnecessarilydeterminedbyhowwework,
andspecificallyhowweworkwithothers.Sinceitismanhimselfwhoappropriatestheproducts
ofanothermanslabour,sinceitismanwhoalienatesthelabourerfromhisproduct,activity,and
specieslife,itisnecessarilyanothermanwhoisalsoalien,hostile,[and]powerfulin
oppositiontothelabourer(p.92).Therelationshipoftheworkertohislabourcreatesthe
relationshiptoitofthecapitalist(p.93).

Alienationfromourspeciesbeing
Mansvitalactivity,hisactivitywhichseparateshimfromotherspeciesofanimal,is
labour.Man,likeallotheranimals,mustprocurethenecessitiesoflifesuchasfoodandwater
however,manslabouristoexceedthesebareminimumsofsurvival.ForMarx,itisourfree
consciousactivity,ourmovementbeyondphysicalneeds,whichisthespeciescharacteristicof

man(Marx,2000,p.90).Marxviewsalienatedlabourashavingpervertedussothatour
consciousactionbecomesameanstowardsurvivalourvitalactivitybecomesequatedtothe
vitalactivityofloweranimals(Marx,2000,pp.8991).
Whenlabourisnotalienated,humanityconfirmsitselfintheabilitytomanipulatethe
naturalworldtosuitourpreferencespreferencesregardinghowwebelievetheworldoughtto
beratherthanmanipulatingtheworldinordertomaintainourexistenceatthatgivenpointin
time.Producinggoodsasweseefitistheactiveaffirmationofourspecieslife,accordingto
Marx.Thus,whenmanlaboursheisobjectifyinghisspecieslifeintheworldhecanseefor
himselfthechangesthathehasmadethroughconsciousfreeactivity.Allofthisislostwhenour
labourisalienatedfromus.Webecomesimilartoanyotheranimal,andourspecieslife
becomesameremeansforsustainingourlives(Marx,2000,pp.8991).

SectionTwo:TechnologyandDeskilledLabour
ThissectionwilladdressMarxstheoryofalienationinrelationtotheprominenceof
technologyinthecontemporarylabourprocessunderacapitalistmodeofproduction.Forclarity,
eachcomponentofMarxstheorywillbeexaminedseparatelyhowever,itisnecessarytobegin
withadefinitionoftechnologyitself.
Thedefinitionoftechnologythatshallbeadoptedherereferstotheequipments,
techniques,andexpertisethatcanbeappliedtoproduceagoodorservice(includingnew
knowledgeandtechnology)(Smith,2009,p.204).AccordingtoKaplan,itwasadvancesin
technologicaldevelopment,coupledwithtradeliberalizationandnewtheoriesofpolitical
economy,thatwaslargelyresponsiblefortheriseofthecapitalistsystemoutofthemercantilist
(2009,pp.3334).Marxiswellknowntohavepraisedthetechnologicalprogressthathas
occurredunderthecapitalistmodeofproduction,foritwouldoccupyalargeroleinthe

emancipation,andtherebydealienation,oftheproletariat(Marx,2000,p.550).Thatsaid,Marx
wasalsowellawarethattechnologywasnotanindependentorautonomousforceaimedtoward
humanends.Underthecapitalistmodeofproductionhumanendsaresubordinatetothe
accumulationofmoneycapitalasanendinitself,andhumanflourishingissubordinatetothe
flourishingofcapital(Smith,2009,p.206).Technologyisnotprimarilyameanstohuman
endsrather,itisfirstandforemostameanstocapitalsend,valorisation(p.205).Valorisation
isthetransformationofcapitalintogreatervaluebylabour.Thedevelopmentandemployment
oftechnologyhasforitselfatelosofextractingevergreatersurplusvaluefromthelabourer
(Smith,2009,pp.2056).
Itisnotdifficulttoseethat,althoughlabourprocesseshaveevolvedovertime,thecore
aimsremainthesame.WhiletheFordismoftheearlytwentiethcenturycharacterizedby
automated,standardizedindustrialproductiongearedtowardamassconsumermarket(Kaplan,
2009,p.335)mayhavebeenjoinedbythepostFordismmethods(justintimeproduction,
theriseofinformationtechnologies,andthecreationoftheknowledgeworker),thenewforms
ofworkarestillcontrolledbythebourgeoisie,andtheworkerisstillforcedtosellhimselfand
producesurplusvalue(Kaplan,2009,p.337).
Knowingthattechnologyisdevelopedandimplementedwiththeseaims,howthendoes
technologyrelatetomansalienationasdescribedbyMarx?Inthefirstplace,technology
alienatesusfromtheproduct.Thebestillustrationofthisisthedivisionoflabourasanexample
ofatechnologicaltechniqueemployedintheproductionprocess.Thedivisionoflabouristhe
processbywhichlargeorcomplicatedtasksarebrokendownintosignificantlysmallerormore
simpletasksinordertoachievegreaterefficiency.Thedivisionoflabourisfoundprimarilyin
industrializedsocietiesthereisanintensivespecializationinwhichworkersproduceonly
smallpartsofafinalproduct,alongsideeitherotherworkersormachines.(Divisionoflabour,

2014).Itisunderthisdivisionoflabourthatmanisalienatedfromtheproduct.Underthe
capitalistmodeofproduction,workersdonotfeelanyattachmenttothegoodstheyproduce,for
theydonottrulyproduceanygoodatallrather,theyplayanincreasinglysmallerroleininverse
proportiontoincreasingstandardizationofworkprocesses.
Thedivisionoflabourhas,ofcourse,beenaformofproductionemployedbycapital
sincethetimeofMarx.Marxstatesin
Capital
thatthedivisionoflabourturnstheindividualinto
theautomaticmotorofafractionaloperationandthatthedivisionoflabourbrandsthe
manufacturingworkmanasthepropertyofcapital(Marx,2000,pp.5145).Thatsaid,as
technologieshavechanged,sotoohasthepracticeofhowlabourisdivided.Onetechnological
aspectwhichhasincreasedsignificantlysinceMarxstimeisthesignificanceofautomationin
theworkplace.Technologyandautomationfurtheralienateusfromtheproductinthesensethat
theyincreaseproductivecapacitieswhiledoingnothingtoaidthelabourerbeyondthewageshe
isissued.Underthecapitalistmodeofproduction,wagesare,moreoftenthannot,independent
ofwhattheworkerproduces.Thisisanecessarycomponentofthesystembecausewithoutthe
extractionofsurplusvalue(i.e.theextractionofgreatervaluethanthecapitalinitiallyinvested),
capitalismwouldnotbecapitalismassuch,butinsteadbeadifferentmodeofproduction.As
Marxstated,theproductthelabourerproducesbecomesexternaltohimitbecomesapower
independentandinoppositiontohim.Pairthiswiththeseeminglyeverincreasingproductivity
gainsbroughtbytechnology,andwehaveasystemwhichconstantlyempowerstheproductover
andagainsttheworkerintheformofevergreatercapital.
TheopponentofMarxstheoryofalienationmayquipthatsuchalienationonlyappliesto
thoseinmanufacturing.Hemaysubsequentlyclaim,onthispreviouspremise,thatMarxs
theoryappliestoashrinkingpercentageinthedevelopedworld,andisthusofnousetothose
whofindthemselvesinserviceorientedoccupations.Inchallengingthisviewonemustonly

appealtothevariousinstancesofdividedlabourfoundintheservicesector.Towalkintoabusy
McDonaldsrestaurantistoviewthedivisionoflabourinaction.Oftentwolabourersstandalong
apreparationstation(thedevelopedworldsassemblyline,ifyouwill),eachpreparingasmall
portionoftheorderbeforeitishandedoff,eventuallytobefinishedandpackagedbyyetanother
labourer.Theitemisreceivedbyanotherworkerwhothendeliversthefinishedproducttothe
patron.Nosingleworkerdeliverstheservicetothepatron,andyetaserviceisdelivered
nonetheless.
Inregardstoalienationfromtheproductanditsrelationtotechnologyinthemodern
workplace,itmaybeconcludedthatthetrendwhichbeganinMarxsowntimethe
incorporationoftechniquessuchasthedivisionoflabourandtheircombinationwith
technologiestofurtherexploitthisdivisionoflabour(e.g.machinery)hasnotceased.Itisalso
worthconcludingthatthisalienationdoesnotbelongtoonesphereoflabouractivityitresides
inbothmanufacturingandtheservicesectors.
Justasthereisanecessaryconnectionbetweenalienationfromtheproductandalienation
fromtheactivity,wealsoseethereisanecessaryconnectionbetweentechnologysrelationship
withalienationfromtheproductandlikewisewithalienationfromtheactivity.Asmentioned
earlier,theproductfromwhichthelabourerisalienatedisonlytheendresultofour
alienatedactivity(Marx,2000,p.88).Wearethereforenecessarilyalienatedfromtheactivityof
producingifwearealienatedfromthefinalproductitself.Further,ourworkissomethingthat
wedonotnecessarilychoose.Wedonotlabourvoluntarily,butinsteadmustdoittosurvive.
Technologycompoundsthisalienationbecauseitfurtherencroachesonwhatwechoosetodo.
Whetherontheassemblylineoronthesupermarketfloor,thegreaterthedegreeofautomation
orstandardization,themoremanbecomesrelegatedtohispositionasacoginthemachine.

Technologyalsoplaysanaggravatingroleinouralienationfromourfellowman.In
Chapter25ofCapital,VolumeI,Marxstatesthattechnologyhasthepotentialoffostering
divisionwithintheworkingclass.Itmayproducetheeffectofsettingthosewholosetheirjobs
asaresultoftechnologicaladvancementagainstthosewhoarestrugglingtoretaintheir
employment(citedfromSmith,2009,p.208).Forexample,theadvancementandprominenceof
informationtechnologieshasallowedforworkersfromvariousregionsaroundtheglobeto
competewithworkersthousandsofmilesawayforemployment.
Thusweseeourfellowmanasacompetitormanbecomesathreattoouremployment
andthereforeourexistence.Othersbecomeathreattoourexistencebecausewithoutthemeans
ofproduction,thelabourerdoesnotpossessthemeansofsubsistence(Marx,2000,p.548).
Thisisespeciallysoincountriesthatdonotprovideasocialsafetynet.Forinstancethe
relocationofamanufacturingplant,orevenacallcentre,fromonejurisdictiontoanothercan
robthemeansofsubsistence(e.g.wages)fromaworker.Thatsaid,technologydoesnotonly
alienateusfromourfellowhumansinforeigncountriesitalsohastheeffectofalienatingus
fromthoseathome.Whileunderthecapitalistsystem,thereisinevitablyapoolofunemployed,
usuallyunskilled,workersthereservearmyoflabour(Engels,p.97)technologyalso
producesdeskilling,whichincreasesthenumberofourcompetitorsandtherebyfurther
alienatesusfromourfellowman.Technologydrivesthedeskillingprocesssothattherequisite
skillsnecessarytocompleteataskdeclineovertime(Harilal,1989,p.1348).Labourthatwas
previouslylessalienated,inthesensethatitmayhavebeencompletedbyasingleskilledartisan,
nowbecomesdeskilledandalienatedtoagreaterdegreebytheadvanceoftechnology.
Thefinalquestiontobeexaminediswhetherthepervasivityoftechnologyinmodern
labourconditionscanexplainthealienationofourspeciesbeingundercapitalism.Weknow,
accordingtoMarx,thatcapitalismalienatesusfromourspeciesbeingbecause,inlabouringto

survive,wedonotundertakeourspeciescharacteristicoffreeconsciousactivity(Marx,2000,
p.90).Itisnothardtoinferthattechnology,withitseverincreasingencroachmentintoour
worklives,furtheralienatesusundermodernconditions.Muchlikealienationfromtheactivity
canbeinferredfromourobviousalienationfromtheproduct,ouralienationfromour
speciesbeingisbestinferredfromouralienationfoundinthethreepreviousforms.
Technologyinthemodernera,whetherintheformoftechniques(standardization,
divisionoflabour)orinmaterialform(informationtechnologies,automation)servestoalienate
usfromourspeciesbeing.Undercapitalismwearehardlyfreeinouractivitywedenyour
existenceasbeingscapableofshapingourenvironmentsbeyondmeresurvival.Thetechniques
employedinmodernlabouringservetorobusofwhatlittleautonomywehaveunderthe
capitalistmodeofproduction.Thecraftsman,whilehemaynothaveownedhistoolsor
materialsandsosoldhislabourforwages,stillretainedtheillusionofautonomytheillusionof
semifreeactivity.Heexchangedhislabourforsurvival,yetstillsawtheexerciseofhislabour
fromstarttofinishinthecreationofanewproduct.Thesamecannotbesaidtoday.Whatlittle
autonomytherewasnolongerexists.Themoderntechniquesemployedservetoseparateuseven
fartherfromfreeactivitythanbefore.Thewomanwhospendsherdayssolderingonecomponent
ofthelatestAppleproductsisasfarfromunalienatedactivityasishumanlypossible.
Withregardstothematerialformsoftechnology,suchasautomationandinformation
technologies,thepictureisevenmorebleak.Automation,forone,furtherremovesusfromfree
activity,asouractivityisgovernedincreasinglybythedemandsofthemachinerythatwe
employaslabourers.Furthermore,asavailablejobspotentiallybecomemorescarceintheface
ofrisingmechanizationoroutsourcing,manbecomeswhollylikeanotheranimalfightingforhis
survival.Ourspecieslifeisstrippedwhollyfromourgrasp.Combiningthesetwoaspects,we

aredegradedourspecieslifeispervertedintoameansforexistenceandnothingelse.We
effectivelylosewhatitmeanstobehuman.
TheaimofthisessaywastoevaluatetherelationshipbetweenMarxstheoryof
alienationandtechnologyinmodernworkpractices.AfterexaminingeachcomponentofMarxs
theoryanditsrelationtomoderntechnology,itisconcludedthattechnologyinmodernwork
practicescertainlyexplainshowalienationoccursundercapitalism,ifnottoagreaterextentthan
inMarxsowntime.

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