What do Marx and Engels mean by commodification and alienation?


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After Marx and Engels describe in Communist Manifesto how the class of bourgeoisie and proletariat were born from feudal society, they offer the problems with this newly found class conflict in society.

Communist Manifesto likens the new industrial factory to that of a military. The laborers in the factory are the privates in the army and the officers are the owners of the factory–the bourgeoisie. The former works as slaves to the hierarchy within the factory: the machines, the overlookers, and the owners themselves.

In exchange for profits, the bourgeoisie will pay the proletariat paltry wages. “No sooner is the exploitation of the labourer by the manufacturer, so far, at an end, that he receives his wages in cash, than he is set upon by the other portions of the bourgeoisie, the landlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker, etc.” (Communist Manifesto, Sect. I) What Marx and Engel are stating here is that the lowest working class is initially at the mercy of the bourgeoisie for employment and wages and after the wages are earned, must then return their earned wages to other members of the bourgeoisie so that they may have a home and eat.

Just as raw materials are commodities, so too is the labor provided by the proletariat. Because of this, labor can be replaced by other mechanisms, whether they are machines or perhaps cheaper labor. To Marx, this is unacceptable. In capitalism, the bourgeoisie is also in competition with one another, leading to the need for lower prices which indicates a desire for cheaper wages. The worker, because of all of the conditions of labor, low wages, overworked, lack of freedom of what can be produced, cannot possess what is produced, and the lack of human relations, results in alienation of this group of people (Wolf, 2015).

Marx and Engel understand that the rise of capitalism has allowed for the advancement of a new class in the role of government. The bourgeoisie has ascended from the middle class, a unit which formerly had few, if any, political authority. But now controlling the economy, the bourgeoisie has, “conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway (Communist Manifesto, Sect. I).

And this increase in production will also lead to a need for an expansion of markets for the goods of the bourgeoisie . Marx and Engel spoke of new wants (for products), requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes….and, universal inter-dependence of nations” (Communist Manifesto, Sect. I) meaning that, “National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible” (Communist Manifesto, Sect. I).


In Communist Manifesto, how do Marx and Engels criticize capitalism (capital/labor relations)?

Marx and Engels criticizes capitalism in a very negative light seeing productive forces, division of labour, & extensive use of machinery as turning middle class into slaves of production, forcing them to work more & more as the upper class just want them to produce even as it seems to never be enough. “Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him (marxists.org).” The view is that the working class is now at a dis-advantage because, productivity has become so powerful that the only way for the working class to get any relief is by finding another source or market to exploit in order to alleviate the tremendous pressure of the division of labour. It is perceived that as the markets continue to grow creating industrial middle class by industrial millionaires, while also turning professional such as physicians, lawyers, priests, poets, & man of science into paid wage labourers. As the modern industry goes on it is swamped with competition with the large capitalists that makes specialised skill worthless creating a working class population.

What do they mean by commodification and alienation?

Marx and Engels believed that through commodification human interaction and social interaction is greatly depreciated in value because, of the human labor and material exchange that has to take place people become more materialistic. “Commodification refers to those processes through which social relations are reduced to an exchange relation, or as Karl Marx (1978) refers to it in the Communist Manifesto, as “callous ‘cash payment (it.stlawu.edu).” This thought has some relevance now, with a consumer base economy in the U.S. that depends greatly on people going out and spending money that they could be saving.

As for Marx and Engels thought on Alienation their belief is, that this alienation is caused by the fetishism of commodity that has gotten out of hand. “Alienation is the transformation of people’s own labour into a power which rules them as if by a kind of natural or supra-human law. The origin of alienation is commodity fetishism – the belief that inanimate things (commodities) have human powers (i.e., value) able to govern the activity of human beings (Marxist. Org). “By losing control of one’s life due to work an individual is alienated from social relationships and from themselves as an individual.

At the same time, how do they praise these new industrial transformations in history and how do they describe what we now call “globalization”?

The view for Marx on globalization is this industrial industry is really astonishing for him he believes, that America was able to create a sort of utopia with the use of mass production through labor. “Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land (marxists.org).” What Marx & Engels discovered that, as production grew so did demand for products it was his view that regular manufacture was not enough which brought forth the use of steam and machinery that was now required for industrial production.

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