The Fourth Alienation
In the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts the young Marx analyzes how private ownership of the means of production imposes on humans a four-fold alienation: from the process of production, from its products, from other producers, and from ‘species-being’ (Gattungswessen). While the first three stages of this process have been subject to great exegesis, the last, the fourth alienation, has been neglected. In the Manuscripts this notion of species-being is cryptic, fugitive, tantalizing, a bit nebulous. It is, however, clear that Marx did not mean by species-being simply human existence as a biologically reproductive group. It is rather, the power to collectively transform this natural basis, making “life activity itself an object of will and consciousness.” Witnessing the titanic processes of nascent factory capitalism Marx alludes to human species-being as something created by cooperative organization of labour, the increasing power of humans to affect their natural environment, the emancipation of women, “cosmopolitan” urban centers, and the application of science as technology to industry. Despite the suggestive richness of this concept, which opens onto some of the very dimensions of feminism, race and ecology Marxism is often taken to task for neglecting, species-being had a checkered career.