Marxian Social Psychology
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No. 008

The Contributions of Karl Marx to Social Psychology





Distributed as part of the
TRANSFORMING SOCIOLOGY SERIES of The Red Feather Institute, 8085 Essex, Weidman, Michigan, 48893.


NOTE: This article was first prepared as a lecture for the social welfare students at the University of Makerere at Kampala, Uganda in October, 1971. I am much indebted to the faculty and students at Makerere for their many kindnesses.  And to Idi Amin for providing many topics for lectures in alienation, stratification, and pre-theoretical rebellion while I was at the University of Makerere.

This article appeared in the Humboldt Journal of Social Relations 2 (2).  The Editor changed the title to one more politically safe: Alienation, rather than Marxian Alienation. Reprinted here with permission.

The Contributions of Karl Marx to Social Psychology

INTRODUCTION. There are many contributions from Marx to the field of social psychology and their importance is great. I have selected nine of these contributions for presentation and explication here. That explication necessarily will be made in modern terms; however, the serious student should read Marx in the original, particularly the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844; a work which is, I believe, the most important treatise in social psychology. The purpose of this article is to help the student to understand the significance of Marx in the field of social psychology.

We can begin with the concept of alienation. In reading the sections which follow, the student should keep in mind that the point of concern of Marx was that a theory of society, of human behavior, and of group interaction be helpful to the liberation of man. By liberation, Marx meant, chiefly, an increased capacity to participate actively in the construction of one's own social world.

1. The Concept of Alienation

The concept of alienation has many meanings in the literature; it denotes a state in which human being is lonely, purposeless, powerless, oppressed, and degraded as an estimable social entity.1 Perhaps the most important meaning in which Marx held one to be alienated is in terms of one's capacity to be a human being. For Marx, the conditions of work, of leisure, and of life generally in capitalist society brutalized and impaired one's capacity to become a multidimensional, authentic being with human qualities of compassion, reflection, judgment, and action. For those of the last generation, some sense of this alienation can be obtained from the films of Charlie Chaplin or the songs of Woody Guthrie or the writings of Jack London, Sinclair Lewis, and James Farrell. For those in the present generation, the songs of Bob Dylan or the writings of Charles Reich or the films of Dustin Hoffman give an insight into a society where it is difficult to enter into a non-exploitative relationship. To forestall alienation, Marx insisted upon radical revision of the social order while Freud, Adler, Jung, and their intellectual heirs for the most part pass by the social order with little or no comment and stress the radical revision
of the human psyche as the central work to be done in liberating the human potential of man.2 This is the heart of the Marxian theory of alienation; that despair, apathy, hopelessness, brutality, and the fragmentation of meaning are produced by the social structure in which they appear. Conversely, it is pointless (or an exercise in mystification) to look for the sources of alienation in the id, in the genes, in the body chemistry, or in malevolent spirits. The sources of alienation are social; to end alienation requires changes in the social structure.

It was Marx who is the pre-eminent (and accurate) analyst on this point. It is Marx who is the social psychologist at a time when other theorists engage in the reductionist fallacy of purely physiological psychologism. Yet it is Freud, Adler, Jung, et al., who are the subject of lectures, examinations, seminars, and training laboratories by which Western behavioral scientists attempt to expand or affirm the human condition. The orthodox Freudian solution requires no social action while the Marxian solution does. The Freudian solution is safe while the Marxian solution dismantles the structure of power, alters the norms of industry, reverses the practices of law, and repatterns the distribution of wealth. For Freud, alienation is psychological phenomena; for Marx, alienation is social psychological phenomena. Research from real life supports the Marxian position on the sources and means to repair dehumanization. Data from concentration camps, prisons, armies, convents, mass societies, and orphanages all point to the social organization as the source of human degradation. Data from therapeutic communities, from socialistic countries, from free schools and universities indicate a possibility, at least, for the repair of the human psyche by massive alterations in the conditions of social activity.

There are several senses and sources of alienation in capitalist societies discussed in Marx. A major sense in which Marx pointed up alienation is in terms of one's alienation from one's self. This chiefly centers around the world of work; one is unable to be a craftsman, a skilled laborer in capitalist societies. In capitalist industry, people become mere objectified labor, an economic component in the productive process but not an acting, creating, social being. The process of being oneself is precluded; one's genius, one's skill, one's talent is used or disused at the convenience of management in the quest of private profit. If private profit requires skill, then skill is permitted. If private profit requires subdivision of labor and elimination of craftsmanship, then skill is sacrificed.

However, it is primarily in the division of labor that human beings are divided and subdivided until he becomes child in his work while the ceaseless search for surplus productivity renders the child itself a useful economic tool. Child labor aborts the potential of the child to partake of the "life of learning" which, as Paracelsus notes, is the very life of man. Even with the advent of mass education at the university level, this "life of learning" is not aimed at achieving the ideal of a harmonious and many sided individual but rather at the development of a narrow specialization in which the student knows much about the narrow slice of life in a large scale organization but understands little of the social and human meaning of his labor.

Such an "expert" can serve the information needs of a bank without appreciating the human and social consequences of progressively greater concentration of wealth. Such an expert can staff the organizational chart of a computer-based military and create a well-running machine for destruction without having the need or capacity to reflect upon the use and meaning of destruction. The modern university produces rank after rank of well-paid functionaries without the capacity to envision alternates to existing plans and purposes of large scale organizations. In the schools of business at Harvard, at Michigan, and at Southern California bright young people are taught how to serve in the middle and upper echelons of commercial and industrial enterprise, but only on the terms of cooperation implicit in the work of their mentors. Weber, Taylor, Parsons, Argyris, and other formal organization sociologists provide the ideological and practical context in which one serves without insight. Conflict theory, evasion of reciprocity, modern systems theory, Marxian analysis, conflict methodology, and dramaturgical analysis as well as Chaos Theory are ignored or denigrated except insofar as they are contributed to organizational goals; profit, growth, and control of environment. Such an educational scheme renders the student an excellent functionary but a rather impoverished human being.3 We shall return to this theme in the section on false consciousness, bearing in mind that it was Marx who stressed the division of labor, a sociological variable, as the source of alienation at a time when others were interpreting personal distress as generated by gods, demons, witchcraft, racial characteristics, astrological imperatives, or phenomenological attributes.

But more than the mere incapacity of human being to create his being in his work, human being is alienated when that which he does produce is used to support the institutions of oppression. Law, religion, and parties are supported by the surplus value of his labor and became the instruments of his enslavement. Perhaps the best contemporary example of this form of alienation is to be found in the gold fields of The Union of South Africa. In the U.S.A., the surplus value of the work of the miners is used to support a church which sanctifies the labor system. It is used to form and fund a police force by which to eliminate political dissent. The surplus value of the miner's labor is used to construct and maintain a court system which enforces the law made by a capitalist minority.

In the United States, the surplus value of labor is used to make political donations by large corporations. These donations, in turn, are used to create the myth of the happy America, the prosperous America, the beneficent America by advertising agencies working on behalf of middle class politicians. Such is the view of Marx concerning the use of labor against the body of men who engage in productive work. Under this analysis, in such a society the more one works, the stronger grows the apparatus of oppression. In some societies the technology of oppression centers around force, terror, and prison; in other societies, the technology of repression depends upon the smooth, sophisticated tactics of professional managers using what they know of psychology, of organizational theory, and of dramaturgy to control dissent and resistance.

A third mode by which human being is found to participate in his own alienation under capitalist conditions of social organization is to be found in the estrangement of human being from his fellow man. Hostility, suspicion, avaricious individualism, and the pursuit of private profit to the exclusion of others' interest create a world in which each is a lonely, mistrustful antagonist to all others. Here we find the "cult of the self," a brutalized, crude, solitary self which becomes the model for one's self. The social psychological position of Cooley, Mead, and Durkheim points up the social nature of the self. In the non-alienated individual, self and society are twin-born; one's consciousness of oneself does not preclude a coexisting consciousness of significant others. The point of social reorganization in Marx is not more brutal oppression anti separation of human being from each other but rather a reunification of self and society in a complex whole. Cooley, Mead, and Durkheim are acknowledged as original contributors to social psychology but Marx, who preceded them and was far more comprehensive and insightful on the social nature of humanity, is omitted in most textbooks and lectures available to beginning students.

Marx' literary capacity, great as it is, fails him in finding words to express his outrage at the alienation of human being from others as cherished social entities and he turns to Shakespeare. In Timon of Athens, Shakespeare speaks of how the single-minded run for wealth tears aside the most sacred bonds of human association and social obligation by listing the ways in which gold destroys the unity of society. In the soliloquy which Marx cites, it is gold which gives title, knee, and approbation to the knave; it is gold which makes the wappened widow wed again; it is gold that plucks the pillow from beneath the heads of stout men; it is this that freshens the hoar leper to the April day again. Gold is the "common whore of mankind" and Marx does not scruple to engage in niceties when so much of value is lost by quest of personal profit symbolized by gold.

If human being is alienated from self in work, in pursuit of private gain, while the proceeds from his labor, objectified as capital, are used to construct oppressive social controls, he is also alienated from a sense of morality. In the first instance, morality means the bonds of human obligation (the moral order of Durkheim), which suffer from neglect under capitalism. How can one observe the moral order under the condition of wage labor in work camps, in the armies, in the prisons of capitalist countries? In the second instance, how can one find respect and love for such a moral order which bolsters a police system, a court system, a prison system, a law system so one-sidedly partial on behalf of the landlord, the merchant, the industrialist and the leisure class? In the United States, a wide ranging research literature documents this partiality of the morel order, but Zola expressed it better when he said that the law, in all its majesty, forbids equally the poor and the rich from sleeping under bridges. But the poor human being doesn't need Zola nor does he need radical researchers to tell him that the law is used to compel him to pay rent but not to compel the landlord to provide repair of the plumbing. It is not necessary to instruct the poor that the sheriff repossesses his television set but ignores usury laws, if any; consumer protection laws, if any; due process, if any.

Man is estranged from morality in a more personal sense as well. As plainly as possible Marx pins this point when he says that under capitalism, human being becomes an "abstract activity and a stomach." Man, the worker, no longer feels himself to be freely active in any but his animal functions . . . and in his human functions he no longer feels himself to be anything but animal.'' His animal functions-eating, drinking, and sexuality-which should be human as well as social, become animal because as he becomes a non-social object, he cannot be a social actor in these activities. The expression of animal functions outside of a social context which give them social meaning can be understood in contemporary terms by the television series on the Loud Family. Shana Alexander describes the Louds as nice-looking people who look like affluent zombies at home, at work, and at play. Ms. Alexander is not a Marxian analyst but an astute critic of the cinema. Her evaluation of the Louds is compatible to Marx: their shopping carts overflow, but their minds are empty; they embrace but do not feel; their ideal of family is a candy box ideal; they have a spacious ranch style house but not a home; Mr. Loud owns his own business but has no soul; Ms. Loud is a gourmet cook, but the marriage fails. There is the image of family, the image of the mother, the image of success, but the substance is one-dimensional; the social and the human dimensions are absent. All that is left is the abstract notion of a family and some of the animal functions of a family: eating, sleeping, drinking, and loveless sex.

The alienation of human being from nature should strike a responsive chord in contemporary America. Long before anything resembling an ecology movement began, Marx wrote of this form of alienation. For the contemporary student, alienation for nature is embodied in Governor Reagan's comment on the redwood tree. For the capitalist, nature is not an esthetic experience but rather a mercenary experience. Rivers are something to dam; swamps are something to drain; oaks are something to cut; mountains are something to sell; and lakes are sewers to use for corporate waste. A particularly virulent form of nature alienation is found in the advertisements of Shell, Gulf, and Texaco which play on what esthetic capacity is left in order to create the image of responsible ecological concern. These ads are so exquisite in their color, tone, and composition that we are left with the impression of harmony between capitalism and nature. Even this human desire for harmony is turned against us in order to diminish the ability to appreciate the pace of the degradation of nature.

There are a number of contemporary meanings of the concept of alienation to which Marx also can contribute. Powerlessness, apathy, anomie, despair, and retreatism are all found in the current literature as socially-generated psychological states of nonbeing. Few, if any, of the well-know theorists explicitly acknowledge that Marx worked this field and was prior in a number of ways, not the least of which are accuracy, clarity, and remedy. The Durkheimian concept of the moral order has exactly the same focus as the Marxian notion of morality. Durkheim spoke of the collapse of the moral order (the structure of norms honored and enacted). Marx spoke of the destruction of the social order by a ruthless capitalist quest for profit. Srole speaks of anomie while Marx used the concept of alienation: the one is politically safe to use the other subversive. Merton speaks of retreatism while Marx called it better: dehumanization "  

But Durkheim, Srole, and Merton are safe to teach to the prospective functionaries of the corporate society while Marx is not. The answer lies in the explicit character of the consequence of this sociological perspective on alienation. None of the three-Durkheim, Merton, Srole-has the political capacity to announce that the solution to social pathology is social reconstruction; the greater the oppression, the greater the need for overt conflict. Merton's paradigm of the social origin of alienation appears profound and elegant enough to the student who has been denied adequate understanding of Marx. When Merton is compared with Marx, the celebrated paradigm becomes an exercise in mystification: disjunction between goals and means is so vague an abstraction as to become politically irrelevant; retreatism is so neutral a term as to be unable to convey a sense of outrage at the assault on humanity to which it feebly points.

2. The Politicization of Social Psychology

Before the advent of Marx, social psychology was of small importance to the world at large. Speculations as well as research in the field drew little attention and were relegated to the dusty tomes of academia. Each theorist had his day, excited more or less enduring respect, and remained equally irrelevant to the forces and flow of history. Marx changed this. Marx made social psychology count as an arena of intellectual activity. Since the time of Marx, wars have been fought less for loot, less for lebensraum, less for national pride, and more for human liberation.

Beginning with the Korean War and including Vietnam as well as all the various liberation fronts, the point of meaning of war is the radical reconstruction of society to liberate the spirit of man, to amplify the capacities of man, to dismantle the oppressive institutions of man, and to force the forms of social endeavor to serve the ends of man. In Korea, the American prisoners of war for the first time could not maintain their antipathy under Korean argument. Twenty years later, in the Vietnam War, millions of young men protested, hundreds of thousands evaded, and thousands upon thousands deserted a war for which no rhetoric could provide justification. The tragedy of Vietnam is not that America couldn't win but rather that it fought on the wrong side; there was a basic and enduring cognitive dissonance between the American Dream and our involvement in Vietnam which simply would not wash away under the slogans of war. The affinity of young Americans was for the purposes of national liberation, even as distorted and maligned as these purposes became in American media. Whatever the confusions of American soldiers, the purposes were clear enough to the cadres and armies of Asians, Chinese, Russians and Yugoslavs who fought and won their own wars of national liberation; some with greater and some with lesser success.

3. Commodifying Social Psychology

In a quite different arena, Marxian thought also had political impact. As the slogans, songs, examples, and perspectives of working men awakened class consciousness among workers leading to militant, if narrow, union activism through the twenties and thirties, the same period saw a concomitant and related flowering of social psychology in academia. Professors and researchers became the paid consultants to large scale business, industry, finance. and military as a counter-foil to the politicization of the wage workers in the United States. For every union organizer and worker-minstrel, there was a sociologist who helped management counter the aims, actions, and arguments of the workers. The "scientific schools of management" depending on the writings of Agryris, Bernard, Blau, Caplow, Etzioni, Katz, March, Merton, Selznick, Simon, Taylor, using a depoliticized Max Weber, and others blossomed, burgeoned, and prospered. In the writings of each theorist or researcher, there can be found lipservice to the welfare of the worker in the preface while the writer and his writings proceed to serve the information needs of the managerial elite. While Marx politicized social psychology on behalf of the alienated worker, a whole cadre of academic functionaries politicized social psychology on behalf of giant corporations.

4. The Sociology of Knowledge

The basic assumption of the sociology of knowledge is that ways of thinking, ways of feeling, and ways of acting vary with one's position in the social structure. For Mannheim's complex treatment of social position and ideology to Whorf's subtle and perceptive treatise on cultural differences in language and thought, a wide variety of very sophisticated analysts have touched upon the relationship first developed in explicit form by Marx. Mead's masterful exposition of the social basis of self and mind is a solid confirmation of the Marxian position on this question. The transition in religious, political, and associational loyalties among the socially mobile as well as the data from experimental studies on the social bases of perception present proof demonstrative and proof presumptive in support of this Marxian contribution. Perhaps the most general statement one can make in regard to the sociology of knowledge is that one's consciousness is a function of one's position in an informational network. Marx' position, then, can be understood as a special case of the general principle, albeit the relevant case at that point in the history of capitalist society.

It is clear from the writings of Marx that the self cannot develop apart from the social. If the self is that psychological structure which mediates ways of acting, ways of feeling, ways of thinking, and if by knowledge we mean those three sets of human functioning, then it is clear that Marx is pre-eminently the sociologist of knowledge. For Marx, the liberated individual is the individual who perceives his social nature and fulfills it in contrast to the alienated individual who perceives only his singleness and acts against others one at a time. Full consciousness of one's social being is necessary in order for one to mediate one's own behavior. For one to be merely a private individual is to destroy one's consciousness of the social milieu which patterns one's behavior and thus renders one unable to intervene in the process of life. The salient case is that of a psychiatrist who assumes that one can come to terms with one's problems by turning inward toward mastery of one's personal dynamisms.4 The Marxian view is that this practice ignores the social dynamisms which pattern the behavior and thus is a futile exercise in the process of therapy. But psychiatry has one great political advantage; it permits one to avoid a direct challenge to the social order (those branches of psychology based on social action aside) and forces one to focus upon oneself as the culpable agent.

The structure of society has changed since the time of Marx and the forms of consciousness have changed as well. If, in industrial society, Homo economicus was the product of the social order, in our own time Homo dramaticus has appeared as the current model of consciousness. In Marx' time, the industrial revolution was turning man and woman into a mere economic entity. The structure of society today has seen the cataclysmic conversion for manual and machine labor to the "technetronic" age - the age of the electronic automation of production. The sons and daughters of the blue collar workers are being transformed into the service cadre of the middle class. A dramaturgical society has arisen in which the emphasis is placed upon images and appearances at the interpersonal level. Goffman and others have illuminated the advent of the dramaturgical model of man. In this form of consciousness. the conditions of society -anonymity, episody, massification, scientific management, and evasion of reciprocity - require each and every one of us to stimulate the persons we play at work, in public, at cocktail parties, at leisure, and in church. In the dramaturgical society the self is a situationally-bound entity in which one temporarily embodies a short-take social role by means of the management of personal front, by body idiom, by involvement shields, by clothing, by staged responses, by joyless smiles, by feigned intimacy, and by backstage rehearsals.

Even as the forms of consciousness succeed one another; even as the model of human being possible in the given social context changes; even as our psychobiological capacities to feel, to think, and to act are continuously augmented or diminished as society changes, still we must remember that the basic Marxian point remains; one's state of being is largely a function of one's position in the social order and a function of the form of society as well; this is the essence of the sociology of knowledge.

5. False Consciousness

False consciousness can be operationally understood as a disjunction between thought, being and action. False consciousness primarily refers to the social psychological condition of those who are at once unable to identify their own interests and at the same time act on those interests. The worker who lives in a pitiful situation and praises the managerial class, the inmate of a concentration camp who emulates his warden, the intellectual who teaches conflict theory but practices a consensus methodology, the mother who votes in a military-minded government which sends her son to war and to death, or a scientist who serves the information needs of business while teaching that science is value free: all these and more embody the concept of false consciousness. It is a monumental question why people acclaim the instruments of their own oppression, but they do. The modern church is a fraud in its espousal of brotherhood or peace, but people still pray. The system of law is biased in the favor of the powerful, but the poor praise law and order. The military saps the wealth of the nation and pressing problems go neglected, but the masses still support the increase in military budgets.

The point here is that there are identifiable, objective interests of people singly and collectively. Had people the same information technology available and used on their behalf as is available and used on behalf of the power elite, then they would be better conscious of their interests and act upon them. In the present situation, information technology - researchers, reporters, mass media, textbooks, conferences, computers, professors, periodicals and such - are disproportionally controlled and utilized by the power elite. In this century the molding of opinion, the management of images, the manipulation of dialogue have become a fine art. Information technicians from the social sciences, from electronics media, from the world of theatre all work on behalf of modem management to shape the collective and individual consciousness of these technicians.5 The wonder is not that Marx is hard to understand on the point of false consciousness but rather that social psychologists are unable to understand the concept in the face of such monumental data.

The end of alienation depends upon the end of false consciousness. The end of false consciousness will come when that same information technology is placed at the disposal of the people. A few isolated examples comprise the evidence that such is possible. The research of Ralph Nader and his colleagues; the writings of Joseph Sax and his students at Michigan Law School; the work of Steward Umpelby and Valerie Lamont, among others, in developing Plato IV all testify that the same information technology which contributes to false consciousness could be put to different use.  In critical sociology, Telos, the Insurgent Sociologist, and various radical caucuses around the year all help end false consciousness.  Music, song, drama, play and non-commercial television have a role to play even if that role is small.  Liberation embodied in pulpits and in street politics has a role to play in restoring full understanding of racism, class inequality, political corruption and patriarchy.

The technology of management relies on the information specialists. In another time the same technicians could construct and service a technology of participation. But one must always bear in mind that the prior question is one of power; whoever wields the power controls the consciousness. That is why in a military government, 60, 70, 80, and 90 per cent of the people "freely" express their support of the regime. Prelude to any technology of participation is the abolition of the stratification of power.  [Twenty years after this article was written in 1998, www. and the Internet emerge to empower and to policize human consciousness.  Its potential remains to be seen].

6. The Role of the Worker as Central to the Core of Self

In Wage-labor and Capital, there occurs the well-known passage, "But the exercise of labour power, labour, is the worker's own life-activity, the manifestation of his own life." Here Marx takes the view that, of all the social identities which together comprise the core of self-structure, the social identity of worker is central to the human condition. There are several points to be made here, one of which is the assumption that a social role (that of the worker) is an integral component of a psychological structure (that of the self). If one will reflect a moment, one can understand that the role of the worker is part of a social table of organization which may be established, altered, or dismantled. This fact points to the interface between self system and social system as clearly as possible. It also points to the arbitrary and ruthless way the self structure can be altered or destroyed by a management decision to reorganize a company.

A second point to which to attend is the human consequence of building a self structure around a worker identity. An identity which is no wider that the division of labor permits or no deeper than the technology provides is an inadequate structural foundation for a multi-dimensional model of human being (Young, 1972). Both of these facts point to a quandary: on the one hand to be a worker is alienating, on the other hand creative work is central to satisfying life. The resolution of the quandary lies in understanding that it is the creative activity of the worker role which embodies the essence of human becoming. Creative activity has, historically, been tied closely to productive work.6 In the future, new arenas in which to be creatively active will be necessary, not inevitably tied to the social position of worker. One can be creatively productive in art, in drama, in interpersonal relations, in learning, in athletic activity, and in a wide variety of alternative areas. One need not become a "doctor-in-hospital' to engage in medical therapy or a ''social-worker-in-department" to engage in helping activity. One need not become a professional football player in order to engage in creative athletic activity.

In a society with a primitive machine technology, the linkage between "worker" as a social identity and "self" as the reflective organizer of human behavior in creative modes would naturally seem to be indissoluble. In a society with an advanced technetronic productive and distributive apparatus, the central place of "worker" as a specific occupational role need not continue. In future society, one will cease to be a "worker" while at the same time engaging in creative line(s) of productive activity. Here marks the difference between a confined mode of "being" and a liberated mode of "doing' with considerable option as to what, when, and how many modes of creativity shall be pursued. The point here is not to romanticize the worker in the old sense simply because Marx used existing social constructs. As new sources of self and new forms of self arise, the traditional modes of creative being become archaic. But that does not vitiate the major thrust of Marx' contribution' which is to emphasize that creative endeavor is the essence of humanness; in the beginning of being human is the act-the creative act. To be fully human requires the embodiment of skill, craft, genius, talent, art, or style. In 1850, these activities were necessarily tied to the identity of worker in order to solve the fundamental feat of physical survival. In the future, skill, craft, and genius still must be embodied in the construction of everyday life; in many modes if one is to be fully human, irrespective of what happens to the society identity of "worker."

7. The Reunification of Consciousness with Action

One of the forms of false consciousness is that case where consciousness does not become translated into action. It is in the arena of modern,especially Western, education where so much of value in the realm of ideas is left untranslated into action, creative or otherwise. In art, in recreation, and in church as well, men and women sit passively while others embody. Mass media have exacerbated this discontinuity, needlessly, in the extreme. In the world of psychiatric therapy, there is little sense or concern that this state of affairs might be connected to functional pathologies. Yet symbolic interactional theory teaches us that the world of symbols apart from the world of action is meaningless.

In the world of professional sports, one hundred persons embody the epitome of physical grace while ten million sit passively and frame the patterns into intellectual awareness. Both activities require genius; one alone constitutes a phantom world of non-being. Gunther Anders, has a provocative article on "The Phantom World of T.V." which pursues this point. In the world of professional theatre, a mere handful of skilled artisans embody some of the most soulshaking situations. The mass audience attends to the interplay of abstract ideas unfolding, feels some fleeting unity with the theme of the drama, and then casually strolls out with the recent scenario of life, of joy, of rage divorced from "real" thought and action.

Perhaps the most profound separation between thought and action is to be found at church. Whatever ideas compose whatever religious philosophy, in the modern Western church these ideas lay separated from the run of life. Ideas of peace, of community, of reverence are embodied in a short, polite service and are then laid by. Ideas of service are aborted by substituting money for personal attention. Ideas of mutual aid and support are expressed by food packages to the poor on Christmas day. Ideas of passion and religious joy are feebly embodied by a church choir singing "Hallelujah." Being religious is so difficult because doing religion is so seldom possible. It is worth pointing out that as schools of theology become "professional," the disembodiment of religion for the masses increases. The "better" organized the modern church, the less is required of the psychophysical capacities of the communicants. The more intellectual the priest, the more passive are the people; the more talented and trained the choir, the more silent the congregation. The more hallowed the architecture, the less hallowed the mood of those sheltered. In a real sense, organization and architecture substitute for action.

It is probably in the world of political activity where the effort of Marx to unite thought and action has had the most effect. Marxian ideology has united with, given shape to, and produced results for millions of workers and peasants whose feelings and actions were revolutionary but whose ideas were reactionary. The American revolution had an ideology of democracy but a practice of elitism with strong currents of racism as its bedrock. The French Revolution had the idea of fraternity but was replaced by the Napoleonic notion of Empire. The expulsion of the British and the Asians in Uganda is a cry of rage against a savage system of exploitation but there is no coherent ideology to give that action form, efficacy, and permanence.

But for millions, the masses have been politicized and organized into a revolutionary force with a relevant ideology. This contribution of Marx to social psychology has two lessons for us. One, that the best therapy for alienation is purposeful social action and two, that the proper role of the social psychologist is one uniting thought and purposeful action. The tradition of scientific apartheid between theory and action in social science must be terminated, since it neutralizes and thereby alienates the scientist while uniting his thought to the activities of professional managers and manipulators at the same time. In this regard is the social psychologist doubly alienated; firstly, in being prevented from creative activity and secondly, in being spectator to the repressive use of his labor.

8. The Emancipation of the Senses

At still another level of social psychological interest and enterprise, Marx provided an extensive treatment of the relationship between full humanity and sensuality. Marx opposed the tradition which assigns an inferior position to the sensuous on the scale of human values. In the Marx-Engels Werke, Marx makes "the complete emancipation of all human senses and attributes" the central task of socialism (Meszaros. p. 200). The first priority in this liberation is to convert the "animal" use of the senses into human uses. The difference here is the difference between "essen" and "fressen," between eating and feeding. A human eats while an animal feeds. The task of socialism is to guarantee sufficient food so that human being is not reduced to responding to food as mere feed.

At a more abstract level, Marx held that human being creates self as a rich, social individual by means of the human enjoyment of all the senses. The more modes of sensuous contact with things of nature, things of life, and things of man, the greater the degree of facticity of being. The greater the social nature of the sensual contact, the greater the degree of human being; to love, but to love as a social experience; to enjoy, but to enjoy as a social, rather than commercial or as a purely private experience. Marx provided a theoretical and practical alternate to an ideology which sanctioned experience devoid of its social meaning. By so doing, Marx sought to restore to a modern generation, as did Freud, the human dimension of sensuality.

9. The Sociology of Development and the Helping Professions

Implicit in the writings of Marx is a theory of social development. It states both objectives and courses of action. The overall objective is to establish a political and economic infrastructure which affirms the human and social aspects of being. The course of action to be followed varies with the existing historical conditions, but the essence of development is to stop supporting the technology of oppression and to allocate resources to technology of participation. Development schemes which aid the oppressive elites in Africa, Asia, and America should be replaced by developmental schemes in which liberation from oppressive elites results. The Marxian solution to development is not military aid to dictatorships and feudal elites but rather military aid to National Liberation Fronts.

Parallel to the strategy of social development as radical reconstruction of society at the structural level is radical reconstruction of the strategy of help at the interpersonal level; what one ordinarily calls social welfare. In the United States, the social welfare solution to poverty is to fashion a docile pool of surplus labor maintained at brute animal levels while large-scale organizations are heavily subsidized. American social welfare also fashions a set of rules which humiliate and infantilize the poor. Cloward and Fox have shown that social welfare practices in the U.S. provide industry with a well-managed group of poor people. In times of political unrest, welfare rolls are expanded and the rules relaxed. In times of economic trouble, the rolls are reduced and the rules stringently enforced. The poor are thereby depoliticized and deprived where they should be supplied in order to establish the preconditions for humanity: all this in the most affluent nation in history. The social psychological contributions of Marx here is to provide an alternate scheme for social development and social welfare to that practice in capitalist countries - a scheme based upon the premise that alienation is social phenomena and its redress requires radical social reconstruction.


  1. In Marx, a variety of terms are used to capture the flavor and variety implicit in the process of alienation: "Trennung" (divorce or separation), "Spaltung' (division or cleavage), ''Absonderung" (separation or withdrawal), "Verderben" (spoilt, corrupt), "sich selbst verlieren" (lost to oneself), "auf sich zuruckziehen" (withdrawn into oneself). "ausserlich machen" (externalized), ''alle Gattungsbande zerreissen" (ties with men disintegrated), "die Menschenwelt in eine Welt atomisticher Individuen auflosen" (humanity dissolved into fragmented individuals). Taken together these constructs constitute and create the meaning of the term "alienation" (Entausserung, Entfremung). From Meszaros, p. 73. Return

  2. One should note that Adler, Jung, Rank, Freud and others were keenly interested in human emancipation but assumed the process was primarily an intrapsychical one rather than a social psychological one. Return

  3. While Marx focused on the alienation of the blue collar worker, this analysis focuses on the white collar worker to reflect the change in the character of occupations in contemporary society. Return

  4. The current expression of this inward turning is to be found in the widespread interest in bio-feedback technology. The current interest in behavior modification may be seen, in part, as an attempt to bypass a societal-mediated structure, the self, and to substitute a conditioned reflex. In this sense, the use of chemotherapy, behavior modification, electrode implanting, and other psychological technologies are ultimately antisocial. Return

  5. In modem times, perhaps the most profound work being done on the question of reorganizing the structure of communication in order to construct a rational society is to be found in the work of Jurgen Habermas. Return

  6. If we broaden the concept of "productive work" to include the production of society, then there is no great problem in tying the fate of the "worker" to the new means of production. Return



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