An Assessment Of The Marxist Doctrine Of Alienation And It’s Relevance To The Nigerian Society

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

An Assessment Of The Marxist Doctrine Of Alienation And It’s Relevance To The Nigerian Society


One of the fundamental issues of most socio-political debate in recent years is ALIENATION, which means “estrangement”. This essay will elucidate the doctrine of alienation in its origin until the era of Karl Marx. Much attention will be focused on the way Marx conceived alienation, its causes, types and effects. Attempt will be made to use this doctrine to explicate the circumstances of the majority of Nigerians, who are predominantly poor.

The approach will be a theoretical exposition of K. Marx theory of alienation. An attempt will be made to juxtapose the arguments for and against the Marxist doctrine of alienation, and how it tallies with the Nigerian society. This will aim at correcting the defective systems of the Nigerian society. Here it will be explained, whether the suffering and the inhuman conditions that most Nigerians pass through can be termed, “alienation” following Marx theory. If this doctrine is applied to the Nigerian society, the question will then be; how does the Nigerian system alienates its citizens?

The purpose of this essay, is to show whether there is any connections between the Marxist doctrine of alienation and the condition of the average Nigerian worker. Here, I will examine the solution proffered by Karl Marx. I will also show that though his alienation doctrine seems to elucidate the conditions of many Nigerians, the causes and solution proffered by Marx cannot be adapted to the Nigerian society. To put it precisely, the solution proffered by Karl Marx is not workable nor attainable in the Nigerian system. Finally, I shall propose that alienation can only be mitigated within the context of solidarity.

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the Study

It has become increasingly common to hear life in the present age characterized in term of alienation1 The concept of alienation has become an almost obsessive concern in areas of socio-political philosophy, as a condition of man in this modern age. The subject matter has become the isolated individual. The individual is estranged from other people, the fruit of his labour, and his self. The alienating condition of modern man shows that we are confronted by the symptoms of a morbid and acute social sickness.

In this present Nigerian society, there has been lamentations of oppressions exploitation and dehumanization. Nigerians are exploited by fellow Nigerians, hence, M. I. Akimbo exclaimed, “we have done very estimable evil to ourselves in this land”.2 Thus, a lot of thinkers now term Nigerian workers as alienated beings. The question, which seems to be cropping up, is whether some Nigerians are really alienated and marginalized?

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The greatest ontological evil that can happen to being in its essence, existence and expression is alienation.3 There has been various attempts to interpret the conditions of the Nigerian workers following the basic tenets of the Marxist doctrine of alienation, over the years. The worst part, is the attempt to proffer solutions to the alienating conditions of Nigerian workers following the pattern of Karl Marx’s-revolution.

The problems created by alienation are multifarious. There is a problem of man’s inhumanity to man dehumanization, as exemplified in the way the rich treat the poor in Nigeria. There is also the estrangement of some Nigerians; from the fruits of their labour, from friends and from family. Added to the above is the exploitation of the resources in the Niger Delta to develop the northern region of Nigeria. This exploitation is in all regions; employers exploiting employees, the rulers exploiting the ruled, the clergy men exploiting their members, some lecturers in the university exploiting their students and so on. How do we reconcile alienation with global call for freedom and human dignity? How can man exercise himself fully in a society that is characterized with all forms of alienation.

1.3 Purpose of the Study

The aim of this research among others is to assess the doctrine of alienation and the applications of the solutions proffered with reference to Karl Marx, and why this solutions cannot be applied to the Nigerian society. An attempt will be made to give an elucidation of a workable solution to address the alienating conditions in Nigeria.

1.4 Significance of the Study

The significance of this research work is bipolar, firstly, it will serve as assessment of the much esteemed doctrine of alienation enunciated by Karl Marx, secondly it will serve as awareness to many Nigerians that there is a workable solution to this alienating condition which characterize their society.

It will also create the awareness that the solutions to the problems of alienation in Nigeria cannot be located in the solutions proffered by Karl Marx.

1.5 Scope of the Study

This project shall be limited to the doctrine of alienation and its solutions as enunciated by Karl Marx. This is not to neglect what other theorists have said about the concept of alienation. This work will also attend to alienation of Nigerian workers and the workable solutions to these alienations or estrangement. The role of the labour unions’ strikes will be examined to see if it is justified. The reactions of the Nigerian government to the conditions of the labour class will not be neglected.

Also, the applicability or non-applicability of the solutions proffered by Karl Mark will be examined critically to show how workable it is in the Nigerian context.

1.6 Methodology

My approach to this research work will be critical and analytical (a method where the issue at stake will be dissected and evaluated to show its good and had qualities.

To this end, therefore, materials to execute the research will be gotten from the library. This is not to undermine the importance of relevant books gotten from friends, relevant class notes and interviews.

Chapter Five

5.0 Evaluation

In everyday life, the solution that is most drastic is always that last to be proposed after all others have failed, Marx did not propose other options before a revolution. It would suffice to say that human beings are evolutionary in nature and not revolutionary. It takes him time to adapt to change. A drastic change will make him unstable for a long time. Also, revolutions are destructive, it leads to the destruction of property and lives. Marx analyzed the world of his day but refused to draw up plans of how a future socialist society should be run. He thus left his followers in doubt on how the structure of a communist society will look like or the structure of the society that will lead to it. Again, he characterizes all social divisions as being the product of economic disequilibrium between classes. This is not intelligible.

According to Kenneth Keniston, all aspects of alienation are not evil, as Marx has theorized.1 This is true because from the alienation of the gifted can spring poetry painting, art and the highest achievement of culture. Moreso, in Nigeria, workers look up to the ruling class in veneration and they also wish to attain such position that will give them the opportunity to exploit others. In this situation, the status quo will not change even after a revolution.

5.1 Critique of Marxist Theory of Alienation

Contemporary supporters of Marx have argued most generally that Marx was correct that “human behaviour reflects determinate and social conditions”.2 More specifically, they argued that his analysis of commodities is still useful and that alienation is still a problem because people have not adhered to the solution proffered by Marx.3 Marxism is a commitment towards the upliftment of the poor. It is a commitment to change. This change involves laying the alienating condition of man.

The causes of alienation as postulated by Marx, did not exhaust the modern causes of alienation. He was mistaken in his view that the locus of alienation is situated in the work place. There are workers who take pride in their work, contrary to Marxist views. The Niger-Delta in Nigeria cry of alienation and marginalization, but this is not due to their type of work, but the exploitation and expropriation of their resources.

Some scholars have suggested contrary to Marx’s view that capitalism is not he birth place of alienation, and that different economic system also reflects the condition that Marx termed “alienation”. Evolutionary socialist have rejected Marx’s claim that socialism can be accomplished only through class conflict and violent revolution. That is, social thought and foresight have show that social evils can be ameliorated without a revolution.4 Their argument is that inequality is not only exhibited in classes, but also among races, nations, sex, etc.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, critics have argued that the Soviet Union’s numerous internal failings and subsequent collapse were a direct resulting the practical failings of Marx’s programme. But Marxist scholars claim that the Soviet Unions Leninist and Starlinist policies were only superficially similar to Marx’s theory.5 These Marxist scholars in their argument only ended up throwing away the Marxist baby with Leninist and Stalinist bath water, for there is no way one can remove the influence of Marx on the theories of Lenin and Starlin.

Marx had also been accused of not providing a blur print for the government that is to come after the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. He never really proffered solutions to the problems of governance. He only concentrated his energy on the evils of capitalism. Indeed he rejected every blue print as provided by earlier revolutionaries like Charles Ferrier, Robert Owen and Pierre Joseph Proudhon.6 Robert David was of the opinion, that Marx was clearly wrong on the trend towards increased misery of the working class. Marx had failed to foresee the rise of salaried middle class of professional, technical and white-collar workers.7

Some critics have asked that why should the law of dialectics stop once capitalism has been overthrown. If the dialectics of history is really unstoppable, must the change come through a revolution? Why did Marx not imagine a new ruling class exploiting the masses on some new bases? “Is not the bureaucracy of the communist party a form of a new ruling class which exploits the masses not through private property but through its control of the state?”8
These refutations of Marx’s doctrine of alienation seem inexhaustible. If this theory and the solutions proffered by Marx has such inherent defects should not there be away out of this situation? There should be a theory that accounts for a solution to alienation.

5.2 Alienation in the Context of Solidarity

Alienation, following Pantaloon Iroegbu, can be overcome within the context of solidarity. Solidarity “is the factor quality on the part of communities… of being perfectly united in interest, sympathies or aspirations”.9 It is the proper choice of living and action, and relating among human beings.10

In solidarity, each person is his brother’s keeper. The other person is seen as a subject, as a person and not as object or a thing. It is living within a communal love, for “love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence”.11 Here, it is no longer the ‘I-it relationship or the ‘I-thou’ relationship held by Martin Buber, “but a ‘we’ relationship”,12 a strengthened family and a revitalized community. In this communal life, there is no discrimination; it is a community on a “higher level and a much broader scope”.13

In solidarity, egalitarianism is reborn. In the ‘we’, the ‘I’ has a contribution to make for the continual existence of the ‘we’. This contribution that each person must make to the ‘we’, the common good, Irogbu termed ‘subsidiarity’. Subsidiarity “is a necessary co-relative of solidarity”.14 Human beings need other human beings in order to exist.15 Solidarity and subsidarity are therefore the ‘kpim’ of the ‘we’ society.

In the ‘we’, it is not just the community, but the whole world as a community. The individual is a person only within this community. We have to look inward, at what unites us and not at our differences. It is only within the context of solidiarity, the ‘we’ society, that a gradual dealination is possible.

5.3 Reflections and Conclusions

History, with all due apologies to Hegel, is a dialectics of problems. History progress with man’s attempt to solve these problems. It is the manner of solving this problem that marks the difference between one people and another. Iroegbu was right in calling Nigerians to develop mutual feelings for each other, as the beginning of the end of their problems.

Why should we cry over a poor economy, when it is the product of our own action and in action? But optimistically, it is believed here that the alienating condition of the working class can be surmounted. The first step is to identify the problem – disunity, ethnicity and individualism. The alienating condition of the working class will only be eradicated when Nigerian, both workers and employers unite together and begin to see each other as one.

No condition is permanent; this Karl Marx himself would have attested to Nigerians are great and wonderful people. The troubles with Nigerians are Nigerians. We know what the problem is, we know the way forward. But have chosen to remain adamant. The solution is unity. Until this unity is achieved, we may not improve on the Nigerian deplorable conditions.

Thus, from the peak of the mountain, I proclaim unity for both Nigerians and Nigerian workers. This unity is not to carry out a revolution as proposed by Marx, but to fraternize with one another. When all Nigerians fraternize, this will imply fraternization of both the leaders of government and the led. This will again mean each seeking the interest of the other.

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