Humanities 221           Professor Easton

Marx, "Estranged Labour"


  1. With what "premises of political economy" does Marx begin?  (Think of the Enlightenment economists we discussed for Dickens.)
  2. How does a worker "sink to the level of a commodity" (70)?
  3. What happens to the value of the laborer as the quantity of commodities produced by his labor increases? (71)
  4. What do the "laws of political economy" conceal about the relationship between what a worker produces and what a worker consumes? (73)
  5. What does Marx mean when he says that labor is "external" to the worker?  (74)
  6. How can factory work be considered "forced" labor? (74)
  7. Marx says a worker retains only his "animal functions"; what do workers lose and to whom do they lose it? (74)
  8. Marx considers labor a "life activity" (75).  What does this mean?
  9. Estranged labor, Marx contends, reverses the natural order and productive life becomes a "mere means to existence" (76).  What does this mean?
  10. Marx suggests that workers become strangers to their own bodies (77).  How does this happen?
  11. Some religious cultures claim that "labor" and its products belong to the gods.  If labor, products, and activities don't belong to the worker under capitalism, to whom do they belong? (78)  Why does Marx draw in the religious analogy?
  12. Given what we know about Marx and Engels' critique of private property (the private ownership of the means of production), we might expect Marx to blame private property for begetting "estranged labor."  Yet he suggests the opposite: "Private property is thus the product, the result, the necessary consequence of alienated labour, of the eternal relation of the worker to nature and to himself" (79).  Explain this paradox.
  13. Why is labor "the servant of the wage"? (79)
  14. Why doesn't Marx think higher wages are the answer to the problems of industrialism? (80)
  15. According to Marx, what is the basic difference between private property and labor? (80, "problem 2")  Why is this important?


Four kinds of "estrangement" or "alienation" that describe wage labor.  Note examples from jobs you have had.

Alienation from the product

Alienation from the act of production

Alienation from species being & nature

Estrangement of man from man