German intellectual, Karl Marx, identified four theories of alienation that could occur in the workforce under a capitalist system of production: 1) alienation of the worker from his work product; 2) alienation of the worker from the act of working; 3) alienation of the worker from himself, as producer; and 4) alienation of the worker from other workers.
These theories of alienation tend to suggest that within the capitalist production scheme, workers lose the ability to direct their own destinies, to direct their own action, to determine the nature of such actions, to define their relationships with others, and to own things and to use the value of the goods and services, produced with his own labor. It would certainly appear that Marx was not a big fan of capitalistic production, in so much as the worker is guided to activities that are directed by “the man,” the company owner who controls the means of production, and has the ability to extract production from the worker himself.
Alienation of the worker from his work product
Under this theory of alienation, the worker is alienated from his work product by virtue of the fact that he has no say over the design or production of his product, because those decisions are made by the capitalist class. The worker’s labor is converted into a product or commodity, which has a certain value in the market. The party who owns or directs the work or production, also has the ability to set wages to whatever level or amount will help him to maximize the profit made from the products the worker produces. While the worker will receive wages for his output, it is the influx of capital through the sale of goods and services, that is driving the economic equation.
Alienation of the worker from the act of working
This is a theory where the worker is alienated from the act of producing goods or services. These goods and services are produced by a series of motions or actions performed by the worker, whose labor in turn, is quantified by the wages he receives as compensation. Under the capitalism model, the worker loses control over the full value and effect of his labor. The worker is further robbed of his ability to consume or obtain full value from the sale of his output or product. To Marx, the worker is essentially reduced to a cog in the chain of production, or a mechanism in the production chain per se.
Alienation of the worker from himself, as producer
This theory suggests that a worker is actually alienated from himself, when he has to work in response to the external demands upon him, as opposed to doing things on his own volition, or in accordance with his own imagination, and not that of other people. The inherent nature of capitalism tends to dull human nature, turning the worker into a mechanized component in the production chain. Instead of working in response to his own motivations, the worker performs and produces in response to the company owner’s directives.
Alienation of the worker from other workers
Under the guise of capitalism, Marx theorizes that the labor of one worker can be traded for another in a competitive labor market—in so much as the worker is essentially a commercial commodity. The owners of the means of production create competition in the labor market as a method of extracting maximum value from each worker by eliciting as much output as possible—output that would result the form of capital, or profit. Workers are effectively competing against one another under this scenario, which results in them being alienated from the very economic interests that should be motivating them.