Few philosophers viscerally strike a chord with their readers, regardless of the subject in question. Yet there is something within Marx's essay, Alienated Labor, that is able to communicate directly to working people laboring even over one-hundred and fifty years subsequent to its publication. There is good reason for this: Marx elucidated a theory of labor in which workers become subservient to the objects they produce, a theory where people are not exalted by their labor, but devalued by it. Marx's concept of alienated labor describes the internal conflict and disparity of workers, be they from the 19th or 21st century, when their existence is contingent upon fulfilling the desires and wants of another and neglecting their own.
An understanding of the etymological origin of the word alien is requisite to understanding Marx's essay. Alien stems from the Latin adjective (sometimes used as a pronoun) alienus, aliena, alienum, denoting that the noun being modified by alienus, a, um, belongs 'of or to another.'
When thought of in this context, Marx not only suggests that human labor is hostile, indifferent and estranged, but that it also does not belong to the one who is laboring. That is, the ownership of one's labor is transferred, not through due course of law or any other such institution, to another person by the act of laboring itself.
Exponentials of Alienation
Marx commences his essay by maintaining that workers' miseries are directly proportional to their level of production; the more value workers attribute to their product, by virtue of their labor, the more miserable they become. Workers themselves are a commodity and the greater the value of their production, the cheaper a commodity they become. "The increase in the value of the world of things is directly proportional to the decrease...