Slavery And Alienation

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In his life narrative, Frederick Douglass describes the economic system of slavery as needing the alienation of black Americans from their own identity to continue to function, where the slaves can see their oppression but cannot reject the one thing that they know. Karl Marx in Wage Labor and Capital explains the capitalist system as requiring the alienation of the working class from themselves, others and their work to keep the system going, so that the working class remains oblivious to the system they provide for. Despite their different views on whether their respective economic systems can be perceived, Douglass in his life narrative and Marx in his essay Wage Labor and Capital similarly view their economic systems as unsustainable because …show more content…

Douglass writes about how the alienation of slaves from their individual identity allowed for appeasement tactics to prevent rebellion. He explained that the “holidays” that were given to slaves were “among the most effective means in the hands of the slaveholder in keeping down the spirit of insurrection” (Douglass 65). These celebrations allowed the slaves to experience basic freedom from the “benevolence” of their master, when this was another selfish method used by the master to control the slaves. Because the slaves were alienated from their individual identities, slavery was all they knew, and these celebrations were a way to create gratitude for the master for only giving them a periodic taste of basic human rights, which would satiate the slaves until the next time. Marx saw a similar use of appeasement in his economic system, where the rich capitalists conceded the bare minimum to maintain control of the working class. In his capitalist system “the worker receives means of subsistence in exchange for [their] labor power,” which serves no purpose but “immediate consumption,” whereas the capitalist receives “a greater value” than they had previously (Marx 209). The worker, despite creating additional earnings for the capitalist, only receives their “means of sustenance,” or their bare minimum for survival. Because the worker has been alienated from their work and the system however, they normalize this exchange, and are content with receiving a mere fraction of what they produce, unaware of their exploitation. Alienation provides the framework for both Douglass’ and Marx’s economic systems to function, as it allows the ruling class to establish a norm of

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