Karl Marx’s Four Stages of Alienation

Themes of the proper and the mere, the ideal and reality have always been present in the history of philosophical thought. Tumulty (2020) asserts that the analysis of social actuality shows the gap between desires and possibilities, the purpose of the activity and its result, and ideal and reality. It leads to the formulation of a problem that describes the negativity of the world and the study of a category formulated as alienation. It is one of the most widely known terms in Marxist philosophy. In everyday speech and even in the social sciences, it is commonly used to describe vague feelings of dissatisfaction or meaninglessness, particularly to work. According to Marx (1967), alienation is a social phenomenon when persons cease to perceive their activity and its results and consider them as something strange and dominating over them. The philosopher identifies four forms of alienation: from the product of labor, from the labor process, from others, and from oneself. Therefore, every form of alienation described by Marx is inherent in every person at one stage or another in his life.

As mentioned above, any form of alienation is directly related to work. According to Comninel (2019), created by the worker’s labor, the commodity becomes external, does not belong to man, and opposes him as a free and hostile something. Consequently, if we understand the product of labor as self-alienation, then human activity also becomes alienated. A person must work to satisfy his basic needs; labor activity is not voluntary. Moreover, Tumulty (2020) notes that labor subjugates individuals, regulates their life activity, and a person loses freedom. Thus, people are alienated not only from their own but also from the generic essence, and the loss of themself occurs. Further, in the process of alienation, the relationship between workers changes. Work loses its collaborative nature, and people become isolated from each other. Thus, the problem of alienation is the problem of people losing themselves and their identity. It is a conflict between actual existence and potential being, the loss of control over the process and results of activity, the destruction of social contacts, and, in general, the transformation of the essence of human nature.

Real-life examples can illustrate the scheme of alienation proposed by Marx. For example, working in any enterprise or organization, a person gives his work result to the employer, be it a physical object or an idea. In other words, the employer withdraws the finished product, which ceases to belong to the employee. The manufacture of any goods, be it food, medicine, or car parts, is associated with the alienation of the result of labor from the worker who made it. It gives rise to the second stage of alienation – from the labor process. Since the result of labor will be alienated, the employee becomes indifferent to the work process. Today, active attention is paid to improving performance and employee engagement. From my own experience, I can confirm that most people, including myself, rarely get satisfaction from work but do it to obtain resources, including material ones.

The following stages of alienation are estrangement from oneself and other people. By becoming addicted to work, people lose themselves. Creators invest a part of themselves in the output of their activities. Due to the alienation of the result of labor, he loses it and gradually burns out. Indeed, when I exert maximum effort in the work process, receiving in return only a material reward equal to the base rate, I experience psychological discomfort and feel oppressed. In this regard, the thought comes to mind as to why most Americans visit a psychologist. When each employee is faced with this, the climate in the team changes. Competition, the pursuit of profit, and the desire to possess the same material goods become the leading motives of activity.

Thus, the concept of alienation described by Marx does not lose its relevance in modern society and is applicable to most people. The characteristic features of the new social reality and the new model of relations between man and society are dynamism and discreteness, which leads to a change in the individual’s self-consciousness. Consequently, the future development of a person depends on resolving the problems associated with the phenomenon of alienation.


Comninel, G. (2019). Alienation and emancipation in the work of Karl Marx, Palgrave Macmillan.

Marx, K. (1967). Economic and philosophic manuscripts of 1844, Progress Publishers.

Tumulty, M. (2020). Alien experience, Oxford University Press.