PSY 4327 Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: Political Economy, Dialectic

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10 Aug 2016
Capital, Alienation, and the Commodity-Form
KarlMarx’sTheoryofAlienationandthedialectic method
KathleenPacyna’sreviewofvaryingtreatmentsof Marx’s theory of alienation
Imagininganunalienatedconditioninadvanced capitalism
Dialectics and Alienation
“Alienation can only be grasped as the absence of unalienation, each state serving as a point of reference for the other” (Ollman,
1976, p. 131-132)
Four distinct “breaks” or “separations”; from one’s labour (activity), products (material), each other and the “species”
Philosophy of internal relations:
“Marx’s relational view of reality (which means too, his dialectic), his conceptual framework for dealing with human nature and his
theory of alienation, one part of which is the labor theory of value, are extremely useful aids for understanding nature, man and
society” (1976, p. 240)
Human Nature & Productive Activity
As the individual’s sense of reality is dominated by the commodity-form and its production/consumption, there is a
distancing from one’s human needs, now determined by external, alien products;
“So much does labour’s realisation appear as loss of reality to the point of starving to death. So much does
objectification appear as loss of the object that the worker is robbed of the objects most necessary not only for his life
but for his work” (Marx, 1961[1844], p. 69)
The making of the “commodity-form”
“The less you are, the more you have; the less you express your own life, the greater is your alienated life” and “Everything which the political economist
takes from you in life and in humanity, he replaces for you in money and in wealth; and all the things which you cannot do, your money can do” (Marx,
1961[1844], p. 119)
“...when capitalism enters the scene and turns products into commodities, at stake is not the abstracted concept of money but instead man’s
very essence” (Pacyna, 2012, p. 80)
“Productive activity is thus the source of consciousness and, when objectified, becomes the source of alienation” (Ibid.)
Dehumanising effects of capitalism
“Production does not simply produce man as a commodity, the commodity-man, man in the role of commodity; it produces him in
keeping with this role as a spiritually and physically dehumanised being” (Marx, 1961, p. 85)
“Alienation distorts the nature of human beings. Human beings live on and by the products of nature (sunlight, water, plants, animals),
including and progressing from the objects of natural science even to objects of art. Productive activity, then, is not just productive
activity of the individual, but is the cumulative labor of the human species” (Padgett, 2007, p. 7-8)
Is there hope to overcome alienation?
If the alienated individual is an “abstraction,” who “has lost touch with all human specificity” (Ollman, 1976, p. 134)
and capitalism has turned “the life of the species into a means of individual life” (Marx, 1961, p. 75), then how does
one overcome such conditions? And, what is necessary to understand such disconnect from our productive activity,
each other and ourselves?
Work, Moon Shoes & Alienation?
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