commodity fetishism

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commodity fetishism

(MARXISM) the conferment of a ‘naturalness’ on material objects produced by human labour in capitalism when their character is really the result of social processes. Since commodities are the main form in which social relationships appear in capitalist society, this tendency to fetishism, according to Marx, is not surprising. However, it means that the real social processes in terms of LABOUR POWER and the EXPLOITATION of labour are hidden from view. Marx's analysis appears in the final section of chapter one of Das Kapital, Vol 1 (1976). Commodity fetishism is indicative of the more general perception, and hence misunderstanding, of economic and social relations that comes from regarding these as part of a ‘natural’ order. Marx regarded much POLITICAL ECONOMY as guilty of fetishizing the economy, thereby concealing underlying relationships. See also LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE, REIFICATION, CAPITAL.

Commodity Fetishism


the objectification of production relations between people under the conditions of commodity production based on private ownership. In essence, commodity fetishism is seen when the element of social relations dominating people appears outwardly as domination by certain things. Hence, there is a mystical attitude toward commodities as toward a supernatural force; the attitude is engendered by the commodity form, which conceals the dependence of the commodity producers on the market.

Commodity fetishism is a historical phenomenon and is objective in nature. It reaches its highest development under capitalism, where commodity-money relations have become the absolute and universal form of economic activity. The objectification of economic relations between people is determined by the organizational features of social production and not by the natural properties of the things themselves. K. Marx noted that “this fetishism of commodities has its origin ... in the peculiar social character of the labor that produces them” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, p. 82).

In a commodity economy based on private ownership of property, producers operate independently of one another amid circumstances of anarchy and fierce competition. The products of their labor appear as “products of the labor of private individuals who carry on their work independently of each other” (Marx, ibid.). Nevertheless, the social division of labor presupposes an interdependence between the various agents of commodity production. The link between the agents is to be found in the market, where the transformation of the products of labor into commodities occurs. Under these conditions, the recognition of the social character of the labor expenses of the separate producers occurs through the exchange of one commodity for another. Only through the exchange of commodities on the basis of the law of value does a societal evaluation of the results of the economic activity of separate commodity producers become possible. Thus, the economic relations between people under conditions of commodity production based on private ownership are necessarily clothed in the form of social relations between things. An objectification of production relations occurs.

Commodity fetishism signifies the personification of things and economic categories. Capital as a production relation is personified in the capitalist, while hired labor is embodied in the worker. Through the personification of economic relations, the laws of capitalist production are manifested in the actions and the wills of individual people and groups.

Fetishism permeates all the economic categories of capitalist society. The exploitation of man by man is masked by the payment of wages. The power that compels a worker to perform excessive labor is conceived to be the means of production, that is, things, rather than the class of capitalists. Profit, interest, and rent, which are the product of the exploitation of hired labor, appear externally as something engendered by things themselves: profit as a product of the means of production, interest as the product of money, and rent as the product of land. The highest manifestation of commodity fetishism is the cult of money, which emerges under capitalism as the universal form of wealth.

In order to overcome commodity fetishism, it is necessary to effect a revolutionary overthrow of capitalist society, which is based on private ownership of the means of production. Under socialism, amid conditions where there is a predominance of public ownership of the means of production, relations between people are not veiled by relations between things; instead, they have a planned nature, and so commodity fetishism disappears.


References in periodicals archive ?
When Johnson, in turn, plays with the idea of commodity fetishism in order to deconstruct the dichotomy primitive/civilized, he is engaging a trope of ironic inversion of this dichotomy with substantial historical and literary precedent.
The best example, from Capital, is the section on commodity fetishism, where Marx makes two key arguments: against the classical political economists, that there's nothing natural about homo economicus, and against Feuerbach, that commodity fetishism is somehow a distorted or false consciousness of commodity exchange.
The gap, then, is filled by collective fantasy, which in late capitalist society is occupied by commodity fetishism.
If these early pieces--which were recently on view in a comprehensive survey at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami--pivot around notions of desublimation, commodity fetishism, and libidinal economies through an exploration of (base) materialism, Miller's recent output, as presented in Telles Fine Art's "Relations in Public," reveals a different set of concerns, ones driven by questions regarding photography's role in the representation and circulation of discourse in the public sphere.
Yet, many of the ideas developed in Marx's theorising of the political economy of capitalism can advance our understanding of the political, social and cultural function that public relations plays in the globalised world, as circulation labour, and its involvement in promoting consumption and commodity fetishism which places the planet on the edge of ecological collapse.
It's this reinforcement that makes commodity fetishism so harmful; as an ideology, it acts as a kind of "spell" that keeps people blind to capitalism's abuses against workers.
in Ferguson, Missouri; online expression about the George Zimmerman case; the power of viral content and ideas for non-progressive causes like anti-immigration rhetoric; commodity fetishism in online engagement and participation; online dating, body image, and personal identity; online relationships and scams; online sexual violence and the death of Amanda Todd; and comments on viral videos of the Transportation Security Administration.
We mention here several of the more sophisticated analyses of commodity fetishism in recent decades by Continental and Anglo thinkers who spotlight consumption as a more adequate context for objectification of value, rather than Marxian 'production'.
In his essay 'The Utopian Content of Reification: Adorno's Critical Social Theory of Nature', Christopher Buck calls on us to take up transcendence as it is offered to us through second nature, which in this case, is the second nature of capitalism and commodity fetishism.
Rather than opining about Miller's intentions when he created Willy Loman or moralizing about commodity fetishism and class alienation in the plot of Death of a Salesman, Younkins turns his evaluative judgment on Willy: "Willy appears to have been obsessed with his goal of being known as a great salesman rather than with actually being a great salesman.
Without doubt, there are issues of base/superstructure, commodity fetishism, and the Althusserian-Gramscian inspired notions of ideology and hegemony that need to be examined in this essay in the orbit of a Marxist political economy.
This is true across the spectrum, be it terms-of-use reference to social facts a la Durkheim; praxis, alienation, or commodity fetishism a la Marx, cultural history a la Boas or Lowie, function a la Malinowski, structure a la Radcliffe-Brown, binary opposition a la Levi-Strauss, cultural systems a la Geertz, habitus a la Bourdieu--or terms such as surveillance a la Foucault.

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