THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ALIENATION
OF LABOUR IN KARL MARX:
(It’s Implications to the Condition
of the Nigerian Workers)
The 17th century philosophy, the
enlightenment period, is significant for so many reasons. Not only did it
witness the emergence of many vigorous thinkers, but it also shifted the
attention of philosophy from the cosmos (ancient period) and God (medieval
period) to the appreciation of man as both the terminus a quo and the terminus
ad quem of all reality. In a splendid way, the philosophies of the German
idealist, Hegel and the materialist, Feuerbach respectively contributed to the
shaping of the philosophical views of another great thinker, the founder of
Historical Materialism, Karl Marx.
Hegel formulated the main principle, law and
categories of dialectics, showing that ideas develop progressively from lower
to higher form and that in the course of such development, there is a
transformation of quantity into quality and internal contradiction are the
source of development. This view in a special way depicts Marx’s methodology in
exclusion of idealism, in place of the cognition and revolutionary
transformation of the existing world. In the same vein, Feuerbach’s
materialism, which portrayed that philosophy, should study nature and man as a
product of protracted development of nature purged out of its metaphysical and
contemplative approach, in place of socio-political sphere of human life.
Hence, Marx puts man as
of all a natural being…. and a living natural being, who is endowed on one hand
with natural powers… these powers exist in him as aptitudes and instincts, on
the other hand as an object, natural, physical, dependent and limited being…
that is the object of his instincts exists outside him, independent of him, but
as for the object of his need, indispensable and essential for the realization
and confirmation of his substantial powers.
It is this natural power and
its instinctive manifestation in man that explain historical movement in Karl
Marx. But a pertinent question arises at this juncture: who is Karl Marx?
Karl Marx, son of a famous German lawyer of Jewish
descent, was born in 1818 in Trier, Germany. Although a Lutheran, he was
educated in Catholic schools and at the university of Berlin, where at twenty,
he wrote his doctorate thesis on Democritus and Epicurus, under the influence
of Hegelian thought. However, the Hegelian triadic or dialectical method
suddenly captured his interest and he conceived history as a process of
overcoming opposition and at the same time being reconciled to it,
incorporating it within its being. He lost focus in Hegelian idealism and opted
for a more materialistic and economic interpretation of man and history with
the same dialectical method.
In 1842, he became a journalist for the liberal
Rheinische Zeitung and distinguished himself as an erudite and vibrant thinker.
Thus, he was described as follows: “he combines the deepest philosophical
seriousness with the most biting wit. Imagine Rousseau, Voltaire, Holbach,
Lessing, Heine and Hegel fused into one person—I say fused, not juxtaposed—and
you have Dr. Marx”2. Marx was married to
Jenny Von Westphalen, and later became radically involved in politics, which
underlines his emigration to London, where he came in contact with the French
socialists Friedrich Engel (1820-1895) who later became his lifelong friend.
“Through Engel, Marx gained insight into British economic theory and the
economic and social conditions of Britain,”3
which contributed much in his philosophical works. His principal works are
“Economic and Philosophical manuscripts” of 1844, “The communist manifesto”
(with Friedrich Engels, 1848) and “De Capital”, 3 vols., 1867, 1885,1895. Marx
died in 1883.
In the manuscripts of 1844, he critically observed
that under capitalism, the workers (proletariats) are wage-slaves (not free),
exploited by the capitalists and as such are alienated beings. This has always
been manifested in the relationship between the capitalists and the workers
everywhere in Nigeria. Moreso, the researcher wishes to discuss the issue of
alienation of labour in Nigeria with inspirations from the Marxian notion of
alienation of labour.
1.1 Statement of Problem
The philosophy of Karl Marx revolves around one fact
this is that matter is the basis of reality. In connection with the economy and
thought, Marx posits “economy is based on labour, which specifically is the
human activity that puts us in touch with reality”. Therefore, when human being
is alienated from labour, the necessary implications include extinction of
life, nature, self, relationship and the conception of human being as tool,
which in every extent remain unjust and unnatural.
It is incontestable that the foregoing situations
abound in the existential world. In Nigeria, the situation is heart-rending.
The relationship between the Capitalists and the Labourers is anything but
cordial. There is no or at most very low appreciation of labour. This view is
substantiated by the ill-treatment of workers, poor payment of salaries or
total non-payment, inadequate remuneration, et cetera. Taken the other way
round, we see dehumanization of workers in Nigeria both in the private and
public sector through the lenses of egoism occasioned by capitalism. The effect
of such egoism is not far-fetched.
Just consider the cases of unemployment! Is it not
infuriating to see millions of Nigerians, graduates and trained citizens, of
course, denied employment opportunities? Why? Because, those already in office
want more fat salaries and better treatment. Hence, there is no need to bring
in more workers. The worst of it all is that such selfish individuals do not
contribute anything substantial to the growth of the economy. The situation is
Ideologically, money takes priority, and man serves
labour instead of labour serving man. The value system of both private and
government entrepreneur gives no hope at all. Things have fallen apart and the
center of the Nigerian economy cannot hold anymore. But what remedy could one
proffer to ameliorate this problem? This is the aim of this work.
1.2 Aim of Study
the problems in Nigeria, especially in relation to labour and capital, the
researcher wants to exploit the contents of the Marxian theory of the
alienation of labour in redressing the situation. Marx anxiously sought for a
balance in the economic benefits of the capitalists and the labourers.
Hopefull, this equilibrium will be realized in the Nigerian situation.
1.3 Scope of Study
The Marxian historical materialism “assigned to the
substructure, to the material order, the supreme significance in the dialectic
process of history”4. As such the researcher,
thereby, restricts himself to the relationship between the labour and capital.
This relationship is not one of cordiality. It is rather a relation of
alienation, the alienation of labour. He will also extend his research to the
meaning of work, obligations of the workers and the implications of the
alienation of labour in the Nigerian context. There will be a cursory look into
the existing classes, its cause and attendant effects on the economy, then
followed by a suggestion of a seemingly workable solution to the situation of
workers in Nigeria.
Method is next nature of any research work. Hence,
this work combines expository, deductive, review and evaluative methods. The
researcher employs exclusive constructions and use of words that are peculiar
to Marx, such as cost value, exchange value, surplus value, et cetera, which
describe the relationship between the labour, the wage and the alienation.
1.5 Division of Work
In order to justify the aim and scope of study, this work
is divided into five chapters. Chapter one deals with the introductory details
of the work while chapter two
describes alienation, its forms and the theory of surplus value. In chapter
three, the researcher clearly exposes the situation of Nigerian workers. The
significance of alienation of labour in Nigeria context forms the subject of
chapter four. Lastly, chapter five critically reviews the Marxian theory of
alienation of labour, its merits and demerits and the possible solution to the
situation of Nigerian workers. After this comes the conclusion
1.6 LITERATURE REVIEW
It is a common belief in nature that every existing
situation or event has an organic link to something that existed earlier.
Hence, there is always a background to any subject under study.
History has it that Karl Marx, though very famous and
influential in his time, could not be identified with a particular
philosophical system. Instead, what later emerged, as his philosophical thought
was the synthesis of his predecessors’ philosophical thoughts. Perusing through
his method, the Hegelian categories of dialectics as detected by scholars was
purged out of its idealism. Likewise, Feuerbach’s materialism lost its
metaphysics and contemplative approach in place of socio-political struggle and
in refutation of idealism and religion.
This specifically brought the idea of materialism in
Karl Marx. Thus,
achievement in social and political thought was based on a transformation and
synthesis of two traditions: German
idealism as exemplified in the work of Hegel, and philosophical radicalism as
expressed in the materialism of Feuerbach5.
Nonetheless, such philosophers like
Heraclitus, Democritus, Epicurus, Kant, Francis Bacon, Machiavelli, and his
father, as a lawyer and intellectual with strong rational inclinations, and of
Ludwig Von Westphalia, a distinguished Prussian government official, all had
influences on Marx.
From F. Bacon, Marx was able to see knowledge from the
practical perspective, and from Machiavelli; he saw that, “the end justifies
the means”. Kant’s ethics, which admonishes that one, should always act in a
way that one’s action could be universalized and that human beings should not
be used as a means to an end also caught the sight and interest of Marx. From
these different philosophical thoughts, Marx was exposed into the psychological
and social humps of alienation in labour, which accounts for the historical
Tracing the historical process of formation in
economic factors, according to Karl Marx which have gone through the economic
stages, ranging from “primitive communal, slave society, feudal society, and
capitalism”, one could assert that Marx’s study of this process of formation of
economic factor in various pre-existed epochs that necessitated his view of the
classless society (communism) as forthcoming, enormously contributed in the
make-up of Marx philosophical thought. Hence, the researcher wishes to view the
aspects of the above-mentioned epochs that outstandingly seem very influential
in Karl Marx.
1.6.1 The Primitive Communal
This could be described as the first society of men
and women, where they convoked as a result of social needs. Here, the factors
of production were not sophisticated, but were communally owned. Marx saw this
society as next to the communism, though it is too local and primitive.
The gradual sophistication of means of production and
the corresponding surplus product of labour led to the following consequences:
appeared a chance to accumulate that product, to stockpile different kinds of
material wealth and to re-distribute it. This produced an economic basis for
inequality…Secondly, exploitation, that is, the appropriation of products of
one man’s labour by another becomes also possible.6
So, with the accumulation of wealth and exploitation,
struggle became possible, leading to another stage—slave society.
1.6.2 Slave Society
During wars, the conquest kills their enemies and
captives. As time went on, captives were no longer killed but subjected to
slave labour, by their warlords. This eventually gave rise to private ownership
of property. This is because slaves enriched their owners through their labour.
This led to the ever greater material inequality, to the extent that the rich
tribal lords eventually began turning into slaves, both prisoners of war and
impoverished fellow tribesmen and women taken to debt servitude. This was done
for material acquisition.
With every epoch containing the seed of its own
destruction, the slave society crumbled as a result of slaves not being allowed
to own properties. This made them develop little or no zeal for work, and as a
result of this, there arose conflict of interests between the slaves and the
slave-owners. This led to a more progressive system—Feudalism or Feudal system.
1.6.3 The Feudal System
Here, the feudal lords receive land from the kings and
Tzars in return for various services rendered. Sequel to this, other member
servants, depended on the feudal lords, (semi-military commanders) for their
own survival. But here, there was little division of labour, and the feudal
lords having direct power over other servants (peasants), had to force them to
work for themselves. As a result of this, there came a conflict between them, leading
the historical movement to the next stage—the Capitalist society.
1.6.4 The Capitalist Society
society was more progressive when compared to the previous societies. This
epoch of history was characterized by invention of machines and population
migration from their local homes to large industrial cities to search for work.
Here, workers are distinguished from owners of the
means of production. For workers to exist, they sell their labour power for
wages. Men and women are no longer associated with their produce. The product
of their labour goes to the owners of the means of production. Consequently,
workers are alienated from themselves and their labour, because what they
produce no longer belong to them, but belong to the owners of the means of
production, which amasses wealth for the sake of amassing wealth.
As a result of these, the society is sharply divided
into the rich owners, and the poor workers, and Marx describe them as the
“bourgeoisie” and the “proletariats” respectively. Here, the war and class
struggle intensified, more than the previous societies. Marx, who saw
contradictions in the society, envisaged the abolition of capitalism. For him,
capitalism will give way to more progressive, liberal stage—communism or
Following Marx’s view, one tends to question the
extent his parlances on the condition of labour in the capitalist state could
be helpful to the contemporary labourers, especially as it concerns the present
situation of the Nigerian workers.
 P. Edward, Encyclopedia
Britannica, vol. II (Chicago:
Willeam Bentom Collier Macmdlian pub., 1974), p.554.
2 D. Mcclellan’s, Karl Marx Viking press 1975, p.3
3 S. MADAN, A History of
Western Thought , Gunner Skirbekk, and Nils
Gilje. (London: Routledge, pub., 2001), p. 321.
4 E. Craig, Encyclopedia of Philosophy (London:
Routledge vol.1, 1998), p.178
5 S. Madan, Marxism and
Education (London: Routledge and
kegan Paul LTD., 1978), P.110.
6 k. Marx, Labour and Capital, in The Philosophy of
Dialectical Materialism (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1984), p. 145.