The notebooks are an early expression of Marx's analysis of economics and critique of G.W.F. Hegel. The notes cover a wide range of topics including private property, communism, and money. They are best known for their early expression of Marx's argument that the conditions of modern industrial societies result in the estrangement (or alienation) of workers from their own labour.
Because the 1844 manuscripts show Marx's thought at the time of its early genesis, their publication has profoundly affected recent scholarship on Marx and Marxism, particularly regarding the relation of Marxism to earlier work in German Idealism. The young Marx had been ignored until recently, because his early works were considered more "philosophical" and not enough "scientific", that is, "economic" as in Das Kapital. However, Marxist humanists regard this book as one of the most important books of Marx and crucial for understanding his thought, and Marxians also refer to it.
In the first manuscript, Marx exposes his theory of alienation, which he adapted from Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity (1841). He explains how, under capitalism, more and more people rely on "labour" to live. That is, before people could rely in part on Nature itself for its "natural needs"; in modern society, if one wants to eat, one must work: it is only through money that one may survive. Thus, if the alienation of the worker consists in being a "slave toward its object", the worker is doubly alienated: "first, he receives an object of labour, that is he finds work [as one says: 'I finally found work!'], and second, he receives means of subsistence. He thereby owes it [to labour] the possibility to exist first as a worker, second as a physical subject. The last straw of this servitude [or serfdom] is that it is only his quality as a worker that permits him to continue to conserve himself as a physical subject, and it is only as a physical subject that he can be a worker". In other words, the worker relies on labour to find money to be able to live; but he doesn't simply live, he actually only survives, as a worker. Labour is only used to create more wealth, instead of achieving the fulfillment of "human nature". This intervention of the concept of "human nature" has also been one of the long-standing factors in this text's being largely ignored, as it seemed too "humanist" and therefore akin to liberalism and bourgeois philosophy (in a literal sense: a philosophy founded on the bourgeois rights of Man proclaimed in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen).
‘Excerpt notes of 1844’ also known as ‘Paris manuscripts’ are known as some of Karl Marx’s earliest Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts. However they have only been found and published in the 1930s when, the Soviet Revolutions of the 20th century had taken place already. Marx apprehends to G.W.F. Hegels’ understanding of Alienation. He assumes that the worker is alienated in four ways:
1. Alienation from the product he produces
2. The labour becomes impersonal
3. Alienation from the human race
4. Alienation from other human beings
Money and Alienated man: Within the classical political economy, economists such as Adam Smith lay out theories determining value in terms of precious metals or money such as silver and gold; costs of production i.e. amount of labour imbedded within a product and the, in Marx’s view, chaotic theory of demand and supply. Money was actually just invented to overcome difficulties exchanging goods, since it was and still would be difficult to i.e. trade 5 Oranges for half a dog. Hence money, as the empiricist John Stuart Mill says, is just the medium of exchange to be more flexible. For Marx, the problem with money consists of the fact that from being a substitute money becomes an actual good. It does not represent the value of a certain or several goods, but the value of those goods, is represented by a certain amount of money. Therefore due to its flexibility, money could purchase everything, as long as sufficiently available. The market mechanism for exchange altered and Marx claimed the market principle formula Money-Commodity-Profit (M-C-M1) in contrast to the traditional formula Commodity-Money-Commodity (C-M-C) to be a perversion of the logic of market. Same as Aristotle, he argues that the market system does not serve a mere desire of exchange, but the aim of profit. To gain profits, money is to be invested and thereby becomes capital resulting in capitalism, of which Marx is an absolute enemy. He defines capital as “accumulated labour” . The fetishism of money is borne. Men are evaluated in terms of their materialistic creditability. This also becomes an economic judgement of their morality. The consequence is that human individuality and morality becomes a vehicle for money. Basic human ideals completely change. The main objective of men moves towards earning as much money as possible, putting everything else in background. This enhances the formation and size of gaps between i.e. the capitalist and the labourer, and gives power to those who are wealthy. This also means that the poorer become more dependent on the rich, since they are the rich’s employees. This is a rather unfortunate process for the poor, since they have to sell their labour to the capitalist and in return are being paid a wage. The capitalist however pays lesser wage than the value actually added by the labourer. When he then brings the product onto the market, the labourer has to buy the product at a proportionally higher price than he could actually afford. Thereby it becomes impossible for the poor, to build up capital and on the other hand quite easy for the capitalist to increase his. A situation of dissimulation and subservience of the poor is created. Developing this idea further on, the credit relationship actually becomes an object of trades of abuse and misuse. Reaching the state level fairly quickly it puts the state in power of financiers. Marx assumes the issue of credit to be perfected in the banking business.
Alienation: For Marx, alienation exists mainly because of the tyranny of money. He refers to Aristotle’s praxis and production, by saying that the exchange of human activity involved in the exchange of human product, is the actual generic activity of man. Man’s actual conscious and authentic existence, he states, is social activity and social satisfaction. Moreover he sees human nature in true common life, and if that is not existent as such, men create their common human nature by creating their common life. Furthermore he argues similarly to Aristotle that authentic common life does not originate from thought but from the material base, needs and egoism. However in Marx’s view, life has to be humanly organized to allow a real form of common life, since under alienation human interaction is subordinated to a relationship between things. Hence consciousness alone is by far not enough. Relating alienation to property, Marx concludes that alienation converts relationships between men, to relationships between property owners. To satisfy needs, property has to be exchanged, making it an equivalent in terms of trade and capital. This is called the labour theory of value. Property becomes very impersonal. It is an exchange value, raising it to become real value. The cause of alienation is to be found in capitalism based on private property of means of production and money. Capitalist organized labour exploits the working class. It is actually thrown back at animal level while at the same time the capital class gains wealth.
Labour and Wage Labour: Since nothing coming from nature can enter the market unaltered, exchange presupposes labour, especially wage labour. Marx is of the opinion that alienation reaches its peak, once labour becomes wage labour. A capitalist hires a worker in order to be able to convert capital goods into final products. This does not imply that the product reflects the labourer’s needs in any way, but he produces it by processes alien to him. Furthermore the wages only just cover the subsistence costs of the worker and his family. Hence the market price does not in any way reflect the wage, allowing the conclusion that the value added by the worker doesn’t go back to the worker, but on top of the capitalist’s capital. The buyer himself is not productive at all he just deals with the products of others. The primitive barter on the other hand, only exchanges a surplus of his own products, without exchanging money, but only to satisfy his needs. The more needs vary, the more workers have to specialize and the more alienated they become towards the products they produce. Alien needs drive the labourer to work for his only goal, which is the satisfaction of his subsistence needs, to guarantee mere existence. With his desire to guarantee his existence, the labourer actually becomes even more dependent on his employer and the product. The more human labour specialises the less human it gets. It rather develops towards commerce and seems to make man an automaton. This indicates and basically states that production causes men to behave like machines, implying that labour is completely alienated from the labouring subject as well as it is alienated from its object. Due to that, Marx regards the unity of human labour as its division, since the productive capability of cooperative labour is a function of specialization and division. He also denounces the impossibility of the labourers’ self-realization. This division of labour increases with civilization, meaning that with the introduction of money the worker no longer exchanges only his surplus, but his whole product for money.