Monday, 24 June 2013

Commodity

Commodity

The commodity is the basic form of capitalist social production: objects or services produced by work in order to be exchanged on the market and in this way to increase value.

A commodity embodies two distinct aspects: a use-value and an exchange-value. Use value simply means that an object or service is useful. The use-value of a chair is that one can sit on it. The use value of a painting is the aesthetic pleasure that one finds in it. The use-value of iron is that one can use it to create many other use-values (a table, a building, the wheels of a train etc.) The use-value of a haircut is that someone cuts our hair for us. The use-value of prostitution is the sexual pleasure that the client finds in it. Indeed, use-values are as numerous as the needs of human beings in their historical context (that is to say, many needs, such as money, for example, are specifically capitalist or feudal, etc.). Every society realises the desires, or at least, the vital needs of individuals, through social praxis (the way in which human beings transform the world through their activities), and, in so doing, creates use-values.
            Capitalist society is different from all other societies because for it use-values are not the goal of social production. They are the by-products of the production of exchange-values (and therefore of objects and services that can be exchanged). Exchange-value means that the value of an object or a service comes from the amount of work that it contains, not its usefulness (more exactly, the value of a commodity is the average quantity of work needed to produce it, also known as ‘socially necessary labour time’. The market decides its price but this tends to correspond to its value). Capitalist social production essentially consists of producing exchange-values, not because exchange produces value, but because it is the necessary condition for the valorisation of work. It is work that produces value, and it is the employment of work that creates capitalist profits. But in order to gain the benefits of this employment, in order to realise ‘surplus-value’, the commodities produced by work must be exchanged for money. What matters is not the quality of the work but the generic capacity of ‘labour-power’ to be a commodity that creates value, this is why the ‘circuit of valorisation’, reduces productive activities to non differentiated (‘abstract’) work where every, qualitatively different, concrete action is treated as being the same work, because what matters is no the quality of what is produced but the fact of producing commodities that can be exchanged in order to realise ‘surplus-value’, capitalist profit. (This is why, from the point of view of capitalist society, the work of a solider, a farmer, a prostitute, a professional are all the same – they are all reimbursed through the money commodity – despite the fact that they are concretely different). It is only in this context, where work is reduced to its common denominator (more exactly, the reduction of different productive activities to their existence as work in the framework of commodity exchange), that one can produce an exchange-value (and therefore exchange one use-value for another) because the different objects and services have nothing qualitatively in common (in their specific utility) apart from the fact that they are all the products of the same (‘abstract’) work.
            The commodity is therefore a social form that is specific to capitalism; it only exists in the framework of the other capitalist categories such as work, value, exchange, the state, the market etc. Thus, a critique of the commodity, and also of exchange, must be linked to a critique of the entirety of capitalist social reproduction and not only the sphere of circulation (the circulation stage is a necessary condition for the realisation of capitalist value but it is in production, by the employment of work, that value is created. Commodity exchange is what allows the capitalist to find himself with a larger quantity of money than the quantity with which he bought the ‘labour-power’ of the producers (workers) of the commodities that he will exchange. Capitalist valorisation implies all of the different following stages: some money that buys ‘labour-power’ – the production of commodities with this ‘labour-power’ – the exchange of these commodities for money, more money than at the beginning of the circuit).
            The production and exchange of commodities forms the foundation of capitalist society. It is in this context that all of the other categories developed, right up to their current forms. The state, the family, religion, advertising, charity, all of the activity of this society takes place in a way that adapts to the needs of commodity production, rather than to the needs of human beings who are the simple agents of this automatic and fetishistic process. In contrast to a consciously run society, where people would create use-values and the conditions of their production according to their needs and desires, commodity society forces them to create products destined for a market, according to the social conditions of production established by competition, and under the iron grip of a state that will preserve this state of affairs at all costs.
            All of the suffering of capitalist society is produced by this fundamentally fetishistic, and therefore alienating, nature of the commodity form. Commodity production follows its own laws, not those established consciously by human beings. In capitalist society, if the needs of human beings are in opposition to this process, the needs of the commodity form will be imposed and maintain the conditions necessary for the reproduction of commodity society. The very existence of the commodity form forbids all possibility of a consciously run, free society, where we could realise, through praxis, our own desires. It is the logic of the fetishistic commodity form that organises capitalist society, not human beings as such.

The commodity form developed historically at the same time as work, money, the modern state, capital and value. Towards the end of the Middle Ages the production of new military technologies, firearms, forced the more powerful European sates to mobilise a more centralised and impersonal production and distribution of military force. Centralised production and a professional army were necessary. Soldiers (a word which means ‘those who are paid’, from the French ‘solde’ meaning pay) were the first ‘professionals’ who did their work in exchange for money and not for reason of personal ties, as was previously the case.
            The size of armies grew massively; states could no longer rely on traditional agricultural production to maintain them. More and more, they had to use money and markets to supply their troupes. This new militarism created a part of society that was truly autonomous from the rest of society, and economic value was detached from all qualitative considerations. War fuelled the incessant need for money and markets, creating the conditions for the rapid rise of the bourgeoisie, a new class of bankers and financial merchants who furnished the money needed by the military state.
            The increasingly large sums of money needed by states led to the creation of a military and police apparatus capable of confronting recalcitrant populations and of collecting the enormous taxes necessary for war. Thus, increasingly, the life of European societies was mediated (was realised) through money, the state, the market, the police, the army, work, capital etc. The production of use-values was replaced by the necessity of producing exchange-values. Any attempt to consciously produce life threatened the production of money and the state and thus found itself under the pressure of the law and other forms of power. The commodity therefore arrived in an absolute rupture with the old world of personal ties, of explicitly sacred sacrifice and the entire feudal way of life. From now on, impersonal relationships, mediated by specifically capitalist categories, would colonise life. It is in this way that commodity fetishism entered into the world, by way of a dynamic and terrible violence, by the competition between warring states.
            For centuries the commodity form of life has developed in order to mediate ever-more spheres of existence and has reorganised the categories that are indirectly mediated by it (such as the family and patriarchy) in order to overcome its contradictions (see crisis and competition). It has overturned the values of human beings. What counts from the point of view of capitalist society is not our humanity, our desires, our needs, but how we serve this reproduction of the commodity form. The alienation that we feel and that we suffer from in our everyday lives comes from the fact that the world is organised according to the fetishistic laws of the commodity and not according to our own wishes. The abolition of the commodity – along with work, the state, value, the market, the police etc. – is an absolute necessity and the only way to rediscover the joy of being alive.

This definition of the commodity was first developed by Karl Marx in Capital. Later the critique of value rediscovered this important aspect of Marxian theory. Robert Kurz was the principal theoretician of this rereading of Marx and it is to him also that we owe this theory that the origins of capitalism lie in the production of firearms.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Totality


Totality n., total adj. to totalise v.

The idea that each human society forms a whole and that this whole determines its parts.

The concept of totality, in this context, means that a society can be understood and defined in its essence by how it functions. This is why in this book capitalism has been termed commodity society because we are arguing that its essence is to produce commodities. This implies that, not only the commodity, but all other capitalist formsvalue, work, law, money, the family, the state etc.—are determined by this necessity to produce the commodity form. They developed with it (at least in their contemporary forms) and exist to support it. Thus, in order to abolish each capitalist social form, it is necessary to abolish all of them (that is to say, the totality and its essence).
            The determining aspect of the production of the commodity form over the parts of society can be seen everywhere in capitalist society and therefore in all of the articles in this book. Thus, each social form demonstrates its role in the reproduction of capitalist socials relations. Moreover, because the production of the commodity form is an alienation of the totality of human creativity, this means that the whole of commodity society and all its social forms are alienating. This is why, wherever you go in capitalist society, you find the logic of the commodity and you feel unhappy everywhere. It does not matter if it is the family, charity, science, politics, academia, it is always the same alienation, the same fetishistic logic, the commodity form that fragments and dominates our everyday lives. We falsely give this totality an innate and eternal power that is in fact nothing other than our own (praxis). This fetishism is the reason that many people find it difficult to imagine a different totality than that which currently exists (even though others existed before and there will be others in the future, whether they be barbaric or socialist, that is to say, fetishistic or consciously created and organised according to our desires).
            The category of totality is therefore very important to any critique of contemporary society because without it one cannot form a complete critique that is capable of combatting it. The fact that so many social movements have collapsed through the practice of opposing this or that fetishism against another—work against capital, politics against the economy, the family against commodification, et cetera ad nauseam—is proof that a totalising perspective is necessary in order to act effectively against the harmful effects of contemporary society and its causes. This is also why criticism must be revolutionary; that is to say, it must aim at the abolition of the entirety of capitalist society, not certain aspects. If we do not realise this project, capitalist society will be succeeded by another but one that is ever more inhuman and alienating (as capitalism replaced the agricultural societies of the Middle Ages). Our only choice is to abolish the essential, that is to say, the totality, of capitalist society through the conscious abolition of all fetishisms, of all alienation, of all alienating and abstract social forms. At the same time, our success offers us the possibility of a unified totality, consciously organised, where social forms are the expression of our desires, our passions and, therefore, of our humanity. This liberation of human praxis will make a totality whose essence is a passionate and happy life, rich with always-new experiences. This is authentic ‘socialism’ or, if one wishes, ‘communism’.

Totality is a key category that Marx took from the philosophy of Hegel. The latter was the first to apply extensively the idea of totality to bourgeois society and the whole of history. Hegel thought of the totality of historic societies as an autonomous system in development, of which contemporary society was the apogee. But for Hegel the totality was a rational system. He ignored the alienating nature of capitalist relationships. Marx, on the other hand, replaced reason with human praxis and therefore with material relationships between people and their way of shaping different aspects of society. Indeed, Marx does not see a distinction between different schools of thought. For him these are the ideologies of the various social forms that are really determined by the totality. It was Lukács and after him the Frankfurt school and the Situationist who rediscovered this important aspect of Marx’s thought.

Separation


separation n., separate, separated adj., to separate v.

The concept of separation expresses the idea of relationships that are not direct, in which a form of hierarchical power gets between individuals and constraints their autonomy. Separation is the fact that, instead of free and direct relationships between individuals, it is through the intermediary of social forms such as money or the state that we enter into relationships with one another. The idea of separation also expresses both the lack of power we have over our own lives, as though we have no control on this world; that is, nevertheless, a world we ourselves create through our own activity. It is a separation from others but also, in those situations that escape us due to our passivity, one between us and our environment (to this extent the concept of separation describes, from a different angle, the same idea behind the concept of alienation or, in a different way, fetishism).
            Separation is one of the characteristics of hierarchical societies divided into classes. It is part of the domination of the dominant class. It exists in different ways and evolves according to the specific form of relationships between the classes of an epoch. Capitalism accentuates separation and expands it to new domains of social life in a way that increases its hold on individuals.
            The wage relationship, the form that capitalist exploitation takes, is possible from the moment that the producers are separated from the means of production and are constrained to sell their labour power in order to survive (violence and the competition of capitalist production having already separated peasants and artisanal workers from the means of production). To this form of separation (between producers and the means of production) a second one is added, the separations between the producers themselves. The sale of their labour power to capitalists puts them into competition with each other and it is not their free association that brings them together to use the means of production. It is the capitalist, the owner of the means of production and of the labour power of the producers, who brings them together in order to do work under his direction and for his own profit.
            The fact that this direction of work is separated from the producers, along with the mechanism that makes the work unskilled, separates the producers, not only from control over the means of production, but also from the knowledge necessary to control the production process. The majority of the producers do not have knowledge of the entire work process, only those who frame it do. All of these forms of separation reinforce hierarchy and the social domination of a minority.
            Along with these forms of separation that capitalism develops with industrial production, are new forms of separation specific to capitalism when it has reached an abundant level of production. The phenomenon of separation, after having dominated the relationships of production, extends more and more into leisure time. It reduces individuals to the role of passive consumers of their production, spreading capitalist domination from the sphere of production to the sphere of circulation. As in production, capitalist domination presides over separations in order to destroy all forms of association and liberty in the new domains of life that it colonises. Here also the appearance of free choice also masks hierarchy and the absence of communication (advertising is a typical case of communication that goes in only one direction) and activities freely undertaken in common. Capitalist individualism is the liberty of separated individuals, brought together by the constraints of capitalist domination, as producers, consumers and passive spectators of their own activity. Capitalist domination separates us by imposing an illusory community founded on the sterile accumulation of commodities to be produced and sold without end. We are separated from actual control over our own lives; capitalist domination dictates to us what our desires must be and transforms our activity and our creativity into work and consumption.

The concept of separation was first formulated by the Situationists. It is an element of their attempt to appropriate the theoretical work of Marx. The use of this concept to understand the evolution of capitalism in the second half of the 20th century lead to the development of the concept of the spectacle, the current form of the development of separation, and its grip on the totality of society.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Praxis

Praxis, n., praxiological adj.

The term praxis refers to human creativity. A creativity that is conscious and is different from the creativity of animals due to the fact that man imagines what he creates before creating it.

Both the architect and the bee, for example, create structures. However, the bee only repeats the same act of creation, whereas the architecture can imagine new ones and therefore consciously transform his environment. The bee is in a certain sense therefore programmed to reproduce always the same creation and to engage forever in the same way with its environment. Humans, in contrast, are not programmed. They consciously transform themselves and their environment according to their needs and desires as they change over time through their own actions and imaginations. Indeed, human creativity is not only the transformation of the materials that surround it; it is also the creation of ideas. The conscious creativity of human beings makes use of both thought and action, in the moment of creation both are inseparably united.
         Human creativity is not just a specialised activity such as artistic or intellectual creation. Being human means engaging in conscious creativity even in the most banal of activities. Our desires are not only immediately felt but are experience and thought in the same movement. They are therefore able to realise themselves in an infinite number of different ways. This gives us a dynamic relationship with our environment which both transforms it and ourselves when we act. This conscious realisation of our desires through creativity is essential to the pleasure that we have in being alive. Human creativity is not only an individual creativity; it also takes a collective form. It is a creativity where my individual actions and imagination meet, but also the actions and thoughts of other members of society. The free exercise of their creativity is necessary to the flourishing of individuals; this is why social relationships that encourage it are better able to make us happy.
         On the other hand, a society, such as capitalist society, where creativity is alienated (that is to say, limited or deformed) produces all manner of dissatisfactions and unhappiness. All of the different elements of capitalist society critiqued in this encyclopaedia are rooted in the fact that this specifically human dimension of creativity is denied. Where hierarchy breaks the unity of thought and action, the conscious, imaginative and satisfying dimension of human activity is absent or present in an impoverished form. In the division between manual workers and intellectual workers, the former does not control the imaginative aspect of his practice, he only executes the will of the intellectual worker, in such a way that it is only the imagination of the latter that is realised. The specifically human aspect of human practice, where desire, imagination and action go together, is therefore suppressed in work. This mutilation of our activity explains the feeling of dissatisfaction we feel when we work. This is one example of a logic that is constantly taking place in all aspects of capitalist society. That is to say that the freedom to realise our desires in creating the world ourselves through conscious decisions is limited by social forms such as the state, money etc. that act in our place by channelling our creativity, by deciding for us.

The theory of praxis originates from the manner in which Marx conceived of human activity. Later Marxists interested in the question of alienation (Lukács, Lefebvre, …) once again took up this problematic. Next the Situationists developed this idea of praxis more systematically as an essential element of a freer society.

Advertising


Advertising

The association of happiness with commodities. The industry that accomplishes this function.

Towards the beginning of the 20th century the production of goods necessary for life attained such a high level that it even threatened the production of value. Thanks to new technologies, much less work was necessary to produce housing, food and clothing than previously. Due to the fact that capitalist production is founded on the exploitation of work, this circumstance, which made a great deal of concrete types of work unnecessary, could have provoked a total crisis of civilisation. It was therefore necessary to preserve capitalist production (that is to say, abstract work) by creating new concrete types of work. This demanded the creation of new needs (that is to say, new types of commodities). Advertising can be understood as an important aspect (with consumerism) of the response to this situation, where capitalism massively increased the number of possible markets by associating the human quest for happiness with new consumer commodities, and thereby colonised increasingly numerous spheres of life (a process called commodification). Equally, advertising is an aspect of competition between individual capitalists because it gives certain commodities an attraction for the consumer beyond the simple price. This mean that, even if one produces a commodity less efficiently than a competitor, one can sometimes surpass him by the symbolic, and often subconscious, power of a brand.
            The advertising industry rests heavily upon the symbolic and representative sphere. It is here, on the ideal and psychological plane, that commodities and happiness are falsely associated. The process consists of giving an emotional or, if one likes, irrational “impression” linked to the commodity in question to the individual’s subconscious. This impression—often created with a genius that is as marvellous as it is repugnant—plays on the subconscious and conscious representations of an individual’s desires and insecurities (themselves produces by everyday life in capitalism and sometimes by the conditioning effect of advertising itself). The goal is to make the individual feel the same happy and irrational impression at the market that they felt when watching the media that introduced it. This is how “the need to drink becomes the need to drink Coca-Cola”; that is to say, a desire, which could take an infinite variety of forms, takes, instead, the form of a particular commodity. Equally, and above all when it plays on our insecurities, advertising tries to deepen or fears in order to profit off them, offering consumer commodities as the solution to our problems.
            Indeed, the happy impressions associated with certain objects can reach such a degree that consumers, and sometimes the ideologues of the left and the right, demonstrate a nearly religious belief in these impressions or their advertising ideologies. Around the 1950s, for example, it was said that the washing machine and the pill were going to liberated women from patriarchy; even though, in reality, the power relationships actually remained the same (see technology). Today, one can observe a mad fervour in people who wait for the opening of an Apple Store or who can drink nothing but Pepsi. This is not the famous fetishism of commodities, although it certainly plays a part, but rather it is a matter of numerous fragmentary ideologies fixed in particular commodities. This fact lead to the conclusion that one cannot simply combat advertising and its conditioning techniques by refusing the purchase the commodities that it “recommends” to us. On the contrary, the only way to combat it is to abolish the actual organisation of social life around the production of commodities, a form specific to capitalism.

There have been many moralising critiques of advertising since its beginning. It was only with the Frankfurt school of the 1930s that a large effort of critique inspired by Marx began. Just as the advertising industry originally relied on the ideas of Freud, these intellectuals also used his ideas to understand the psychological aspect of the problem.

Fetishism


Fetishism, fetish, n. fetishistic, adj. to fetishize, v.
 
Fetishism consists of falsely attributing innate powers to objects. (Money, the commodity and the reproduction of value are some of the principal fetishisms of the current epoch).

Objects that are linked to fetishistic practices are often believed to have innate and eternal qualities that are in fact only given to them by the role that they play in the particular historical structure of a given society. Fetishism develops when human beings give objects a power that is in fact their own but which they do not recognise as such, believing that this power is exterior to them and exercised over them by these objects.

Only developing in the context of particular social relationships, fetishism is not only a belief; it is always linked to the social practices from which it originates. It is therefore not enough to expose a fetishism to liberate oneself from it. Even if one is conscious of the fetishistic character of money, its power imposes itself on us because it is a determining reality of capitalist society. The reality of fetishistic social life forces the individual to submit to the power of the fetish. One might understand that money, an essential form of fetishism in capitalist society, has power because men give it power. But in a fetishistic society one cannot simply change the ideas of an individual in order to abolish fetishism. It remains necessary to buy food and a bed to survive; therefore it is still necessary to use money as a fetish that gives one power over people and things (and even if one lives by charity, someone has still paid for these things.) Thus, our most everyday and banal actions are often fetishistic (the nearly infinite number of fetishistic acts in our everyday life tends to make fetishism appear as a normal thing, a fact, even insignificant, that one cannot change). The act of paying for a coffee is fetishistic to the extent that we give money the power to effectuate an exchange of goods. Those who do not “believe” that money necessarily has this power and is necessary to exchange must nevertheless continue to use it like everyone else in order to have access to the goods that they need. They are like an atheist who continues to practice religious customs in a society where he is prevented from doing otherwise. The reality of money, of the power that we give it, has deadly consequences, due to its fetishistic nature, which in so many areas of commodity society places itself above human life.
            The history of social life (and therefore of the entirety of human life) since the Agricultural Revolution can be understood as a long history of successive fetishisms. Agricultural societies were characterised by the power of authorities directly and brutally appropriating those products of the producers that were surplus to their vital needs. This authority—that was exercised over Nature, women and human creativity in general—became a central principle (often personified in the figure of a chief or a king) of human relationships that linked each human being. As a non-contested idea and practice, the principle of authority (an idea or object of thought) developed into a fetishism: God (particularly the monotheistic God), “the guarantor and quintessence of the myth that justifies the domination of man by man”. As a fetish, playing an important role in religious societies, God or the gods are not only mystifications or ideologies but were linked to very real forms of power and oppression. The ideological authority of religion, of the God fetish, was linked to the forms of power and authority experienced in everyday life: the authority of the father over his wife and daughter, the authority of princes and prince-bishops over their populations, of priests over their flock. These two types of authority mutually supported one another. God was a fetishism that brought together and expressed all the hopes, the desires, and the will of each individual. His “representatives” on earth played a central role in these societies, in collective and individual practices. It is absolutely necessary to understand how fetishism and ideology are tied to “real” practices to understand why the abolition of fetishism does not only mean the abolition of a belief but also the social conditions on which this belief rests. Money and religion can only disappear through the creation of a more free society in which individuals are no longer held within power relationships.
            Towards the end of the Middle Ages new historical circumstances led to huge changes in social practice. Different causes can be proposed – the accumulation of the huge sums of money needed to purchase the technologies of war, for example, or the decision of China to switch to a monetary policy based on the gold standard – but in Europe social life turned towards the production of commodities instead of the simple expropriation of the surplus of producers by force (this does not mean that violence disappeared, a great deal of violence was necessary to force uncooperative populations to adopt the new modes of production, rather it was the manner in which it was used that changed). New practices were organised around new fetishisms, new social forms that were assigned innate powers, just as had been the case with God in previous times: The commodity, exchange, money, the state, politics, capital, art, competition etc. Some of these social forms had already existed but it is only in capitalist society that they became essential forms of social life (thanks to their growing importance in the reproduction and development of society). One might say that it is only in capitalist society that these fetishisms could be fully realised.
            The problem that fetishism poses for human beings is that it prevents us from acting freely and consciously in order to create a world according to our own desires. One might also say that fetishism dehumanises human beings by taking away their essential faculty to transform the world and themselves through praxis. Fetishism ties us to the constraints of commodity exchange, to eat one must have money, work etc. You may want to stop the ecological disaster that threatens the world but the fetishism of the incessant production of value prevents all real and effective intervention (in order to prevent this disaster it is necessary to abolish value, one cannot use one fetishism to combat it, such as politics or the state or a “green capitalism”, exactly the same problem presents itself with these social forms. Indeed, neither politics nor the state have ever contested value, the reproduction of forms of domination is their reason for being). Thus, the world becomes more and more ugly, less and less adapted to our desires, more difficult to live in, because it adapts not to our human needs but to the fetishistic constraints imposed on our creativity by the reproduction of value. Fetishisms lead us to a poverty that is as much existential as it is “material”. This is why the liberation of humanity can never be a simple witch-hunt of certain “evil men” or “baddies”. It will always be the conscious reorganisation of the totality of society in order to liberate human praxis from the powers that human beings have projected on to what they themselves create.

The theory of fetishism was originally developed by 19th century anthropologists. Marx, in the early chapters of Capital, was the first to analyse capitalist society in terms of fetishism. He demonstrated that the social forms of capitalist society—the commodity, exchange, money, value and work—are fetishisms that must be abolished in order to liberate humanity. Orthodox Marxism rejected the theory of fetishism and, ironically, even fetishized the categories that Marx critiqued. It was certain heterodox Marxists of the 20th century, the Frankfurt school and Lukács, who rediscovered these ideas. Later the Situationists would go on to develop the application of the theory of fetishism to capitalist society with their theory of the Spectacle.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Alienation

Alienation n., alien, alienated adj. to alienate v.
 
 Alienation is the way in which human creativity (praxis) comes to stand against human beings. Under hierarchical social conditions the imaginative, conscious and desire-driven aspect of human creation is removed from its own activity. This has the effect, on the one hand, to give over human creativity to social forms of power that appear beyond our control (the state, money, God, the market etc.), and on the other, it means that we limit our activity to these social forms regardless of what we desire. This is why hierarchical society produces so much unhappiness, inhumanity and destruction, it takes away the pleasure that we would otherwise feel in what we do, it limits what appears possible, making us adopt certain predefined roles, and can even lead us to work against ourselves. The reality of alienation is something that we feel in so many aspects of our lives and for so long that it has come to appear normal. At work this effect is particularly obvious. The stress, the frustration, the feeling of lacking any control over what we do, these are all examples of how we experience alienation in our everyday lives.
            However, the feeling of alienation is not limited to work alone. Humiliation, loneliness, inhumanity, dissatisfaction, etc. are the products of the constraints placed on our creativity and relationships by all hierarchical social forms. In all societies people have needs and desires. In non-hierarchical ones, that have existed or may yet do, people and communities are able to satisfy them without external pressures (such as those of the market) nor through intermediaries (such as the state). In hierarchical societies, however, human creativity is limited and channelled in such a way that it conforms to a pre-established social make-up.
            Beyond the psychological frustrations this produces, the channelling of human creativity into reproducing this social structure is the driving-force behind all of the ills that contemporary society produces and the reason why it appears impossible to resolve them. For example, in the US today there are five vacant houses for every homeless person. We cannot just gather and decide to give these people these houses to live in (or even to build them); every action, every decision, has to go through the intermediary of the state, politics, the market etc. The ecological disaster that humanity now faces, the destruction of wildlife, the ugliness of social space, global warming, these are also the products of alienation. We might think that these things are terrible and watch them in horror but while we think and act within the limits imposed on us by hierarchical social forms they can never be resolved and will only worsen with time. The reproduction of capital, the expansion of markets and competition, all underpinned by the state, drives ecological disaster and all the other ills of this society. Stopping this disaster demands that we abolish the state, capital, the market and all other hierarchical relationships. In short, the possibility of abolishing alienation through the abolition of these relationships, offers the opportunity of a liberated human creativity (praxis) able to respond to our desires, our dreams and our fantasies. Unhappiness is not a personal failing or a fact of human life but a social product that can be fought.

The critique of capitalist society from the perspective of alienation distinguishes the work of Marx from critiques that see it only in terms of exploitation and injustice. This aspect of his work was for a long time obscured by the Left. It was rediscovered and developed in the 20th century by Western Marxists such as Lukacs, Lefebvre and the Frankfurt school. The Situationists would later take this type of critique to an even more totalising level, calling for the immediate abolition of all hierarchical relationships and the transformation of everyday life.