The Fetishism of Commodities and How to Overcome It
Marx identifies commodity fetishism as “a mysterious thing simply because in the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour. This is the reason why the products of labour become commodities. … to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.” (Marx, Kindle 2743) Karl Marx, often regarded as a revolutionary pro-communist, is a 19th century political-economist that heavily critiques and criticizes capitalism in his The Communist Manifesto, Estranged Labor, and Capital. In Capital, Marx uses a materialist approach to argue that real social relations of production are masked by the presence of commodities within a capitalist society. The commodities, instead of human labor, are seen as the foundational support of capitalism. This view, ultimately, brings about the mystification of social realities and the question: is a commodity valuable because human labor was expended to produce it or because it is intrinsically valuable? Marx claims that values “appear to result from the nature of the products” (Marx, 2778); yet, in reality it is the labor specifically that gives the product its value. People in capitalist society treat commodities as if the objects themselves contain intrinsic value, rather...
Citations: Karl Marx, Section on “Estranged Labor,” from the “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978, pp.70-81.
Marx and Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party” in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978, pp.469-500.
Karl Marx, Capital, ed. New Left Review, New York: Penguin Group, 1976.
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