Alienation can be considered part of the process of capitalist exploitation, but it can also mean feeling cut off and isolated from the surrounding world. Alienation in the Marxist sense means that capitalist production separates the worker from the object or service he produces, leading him to separate the effect of his own labour from the products he uses that are made by others. At the same time, he becomes no more than a product or object himself.
Thus the more the worker by his labor appropriates the external world, sensuous nature, the more he deprives himself of the means of life in two respects: first, in that the sensuous external world more and more ceases to be an object belonging to his labor – to be his labor’s means of life; and, second, in that it more and more ceases to be a means of life in the immediate sense, means for the physical subsistence of the worker.
In both respects, therefore, the worker becomes a servant of his object, first, in that he receives an object of labor, i.e., in that he receives work, and, secondly, in that he receives means of subsistence. This enables him to exist, first as a worker; and second, as a physical subject. The height of this servitude is that it is only as a worker that he can maintain himself as a physical subject and that it is only as a physical subject that he is a worker. (emphasis his)
This separation can often lead to alienation in the sense that I use it here: the feeling of being cut off from society, which leads to feelings so deadened that the outside word seems unreal. This is a common feature of depression, a disease, and dis-ease is an appropriate description, so common that it is considered the fourth leading cause of disability worldwide.
Communism, cooperative working associations, and unions were meant to address not only the economic injustice of capitalist working conditions, but also the loss of identity that comes with the lack of control over circumstances in working life. Justina expresses this aspect in her diary on Venezuelan workers’ cooperatives:
The key to overcoming capitalism’s human devastation and systemic greed is to be found in joining together with other members of one’s community or work place and acting to transform our economy and thus our society into one that places human needs and aspirations at the top of our priorities.
Unfortunately, most people in a capitalist system feel that they have little choice as to their working circumstances, and so try to regain their sense of self through how they spend their spare time, but often this is set apart from working life. Television, movies, and the Internet are one way of reconnecting, but they usually have very little relation to making a living wage. Some hobbies might use skills learned in the workplace, but they are often individual rather than collaborative efforts, and knowledge remains closed to society as a whole. However, in this case, ordinary people in one town, and then other nearby towns and villages, combined their industrial and home-based skills with a love of creativity to convert an existing tradition, the local Guy Fawkes bonfires, into a spectacular celebration of their own individuality and collective spirit: The Somerset illuminated carnivals.
Several elements combined to make Bridgwater a particularly likely place for these carnivals to begin. Guy Fawkes bonfires had been held there since 1605, and were immensely popular. The parading of effigies as a form of social punishment and rough justice was already present in Skimmington, a Somerset tradition that was also occasionally used in a humorous way to collect money for charity. Bonfires were times when ordinary people could get symbolic (and occasionally literal!) revenge on landlords, officials, and other powerful individuals who had aroused their ire. Later on unpopular bosses and strikebreakers were turned into effigies and burned, all under protection of Royal decree.
Another important contribution was that Bridgwater was remote enough from London that many minor transgressions, which would have been punished otherwise, were overlooked. Bridgwater had a had a reputation for both independence and contrariness as well. From the Peasants Revolt in 1381 to 1896, when the military was called in to smash the brick workers’ strike, Bridgwater workers were often on the wrong side of official policy. One example of this is squibbing, the use of large hand-held fireworks, which even now require windows to be boarded up where it is performed, and in the past, when they were still manufactured locally and were considerably larger, caused numerous injuries, occasional deaths, and once levelled four houses.