Alien nation


By Andy Gianniotis

The side effects of living in such a deeply alienated society, ruled by an irrational capitalist system, add up to probably the best possible argument for socialism. And we talk about these side effects a lot.

We talk about all the violence in our society. We record the suicide rates of "maladjusted" youth. We discuss the "anti-social" people who go on a shooting rampage in Wollongong or elsewhere, wondering why no-one saw it coming. And the idea of alienation is expressed in all areas of cultural activity, ranging from literature and art to sociology and philosophy. The isolated individual, estranged from other people and even their own emotions, is a familiar character.

Karl Marx's first criticisms of capitalism can be found in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. His conviction that human labour should be a realm of creativity, freedom and community is a powerful starting point for cultural criticism today: "The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He is at home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home."

The origin and continuing basis of alienation lies in the alienation of labour: because people work for others rather than themselves, work remains in the realm of necessity rather than freedom. It is a means to live, rather than living itself.

Alienation is a direct result of working people having no say in the compulsory activity which keeps them alive. Only freedom from the need to labour for others provides the material basis for eliminating alienation.