Socialist Worker

Alienation: A small book that makes a big idea simple to grasp

by Adzowa Kwabla
Issue No. 2287

This short book is a welcome addition to the reading list for those, like me, who are relatively new to the socialist tradition.

The idea of being alienated from one’s own labour was summarised by Karl Marx when he wrote, “The activity of the worker is not his spontaneous activity. It belongs to another, it is a loss of self.”

And alienation is felt in a variety of ways. It affects not only our feelings about work and self, but also our relationships with others and with nature.

Dan Swain shows that it has its roots firmly in the capitalist system.

He uses the example of last year’s riots to demonstrate that its effects are seen in every human exchange.

The pamphlet starts with the historical transition from feudalism to capitalism.Here great swathes of the population were dispossessed of their land and tools, leaving them with nothing to sell but their labour.

Swain explains the concepts of alienation from the labour process, from product, from others, from self and from nature.

He also draws on empirical evidence to show the terrible impact on mental and physical health that results from losing control over various aspects of our lives.

Using the example of modern day call centres, Swain shows that alienated work practices as Marx understood them still very much exist.

It is not the type of work done that is relevant, but the relationships of command that it involves.

And all this is explained without the pitfall of being too academic in this enjoyable short book.

by Dan Swain
out now (£5)
Published by Bookmarks or phone 020 7637 1848

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Article information

Tue 24 Jan 2012, 18:08 GMT
Issue No. 2287
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